By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2013, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
In many ways, the mission of the Oklahoma Proof of Concept Center is to teach researchers and inventors how they can get excited about hearing what they don’t want to hear.
The Proof of Concept Center, a kind of crash course in commercialization, teams scientists and engineers and early stage startup companies with an industry mentor and an entrepreneurial lead for a 10-week process that is a very intense combination of education and hands-on customer development.
The idea is to take a pre-concept technology (often academic research) or concepts from early stage businesses and figure out whether or not there is a viable market opportunity for commercialization. If there is, we help determine the best commercialization path for the technology, from selling a patent, to licensing, to a partnership agreement or founding a stand-alone startup company.
For early stage startups, we help determine the business model.
The Proof of Concept Center methodology, modeled on the very successful National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps), applies the concept of the scientific method (stating a hypothesis and gathering data to prove or disprove that hypothesis) to figuring out the (unbiased) commercial value proposition.
Imagine a white board covered with 150 yellow, green and pink sticky notes, with each one containing a supposition about customers, costs, features, revenue sources, or key partners and resources. That’s how we get the scientists to start thinking about the bigger picture, the larger ecosystem that surrounds any commercially successful technology.
Then comes the “out of the building” experience. Proof of Concept Center teams are required to contact 10 to 15 people every week to get market input on their concept and then present their findings to the other Proof of Concept Center teams. Putting scientists and engineers face-to-face with real potential customers is a real eye opener.
Among other things, our Ph.D.s and engineers learn that the user of the technology might not be the actual buyer of the technology and that the value proposition could be different for each. Often they realize that their assumptions about the people they are designing for who will be using and buying the products are off base or just plain wrong.
When that happens, we return to the white board and sticky notes and regroup.
The Proof of Concept Center is an innovative collaboration between i2E, the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, OU, OSU and Cowboy Technologies, LLC. We are developing a continuum of commercialization to complement and feed into the continuum of investment capital we have established.
OCAST’s Phase Zero program helps Oklahoma’s inventors compete more effectively for Small Business Innovation Research awards. The Oklahoma Applied Research Support initiative aids R&D projects, and the Proof of Concept Center is a litmus test to determine the most viable road map for commercializing new technologies.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.
Did You Know? Companies spent $294 billion on U.S.-based research and development in 2011 compared with $279 billion in 2010, with manufacturing industries performing 68 percent of domestic R&D. The U.S. government was the chief source of outside funding. Source: National Science Foundation