Thursday, May 2, 2013

Pre-Seed Workshops Help Commercialize New Technology at Cornell and Binghamton University

We all know innovation is essential to our national economic health and to our personal quality of life. Yet we also know that many discoveries and inventions are doomed to failure -- often because they are launched from the lab with little understanding of the complex path leading to successful commercialization of an idea.
Clearly every researcher and scientist can’t also become business experts, but why not pull those experts together to focus on how to commercialize an idea prior to spending any serious money on that process?
This is just what happened when a dozen inventors put their innovative technologies under the scrutiny of commercialization teams during workshops conducted recently at Cornell and Binghamton University.
These inventors brought a variety of innovative technologies that included:
  • A new method to isolate cancer cells.
  • Conversion of food waste into biofuel.
  • A gas burner that provides more uniform heat.
  • A new lubricant for arthritic joints.
  • An image-tagging software application.
  • A scanning conductance microscope.
Each inventor was assigned to a six-person team whose members brought expertise and experience in marketing, patent law, business management, product development, and other areas related to technology commercialization. Each team also has a "coach" who is charged with keeping the team focused and productive. The teams met for an orientation session the evening prior to the first day of the workshop and then convened again early the next morning.
All day long, and during the second day a week later, each team worked on a series of one-hour assignments from the workshop facilitators. These assignments required the teams to intensely focus on answering questions related to product definition, market need and demand, funding and other resource requirements, sales channels, competition, and other issues central to understanding the path to commercialization and the probability of their idea becoming a commercial success.
During the intervening week and the second day of the workshop, the teams refined their results and eventually created their own assessment of the likelihood that their product could be commercialized. On the afternoon of the second day, each team presented their work to a panel of successful investors and entrepreneurs who provided feedback and suggestions.
The curriculum for these Pre-Seed Workshops was created nine years ago by two technology commercialization experts from Rochester. Founders Mark Wilson and Judy Albers recognized the gap between the emergence of an idea or discovery, and the point at which any resulting product becomes attractive to seed capital investors and eventually to venture capitalists and other larger investors.
Since 2004, 59 workshops have been hosted in communities throughout New York, and the program has been introduced in other states. Over 2,400 participants have shepherded around 350 ideas through this process, and many of those idea champions have gone on to win local, national and international business plan competitions. Based on follow-up surveys of past participants, Albers estimates that over 160 high-tech companies have emerged from Pre-Seed Workshops, and well over $100 million in follow-on funding has been raised to create over 500 jobs.
University staff and regional economic development professionals have lauded the program for the way it helps the more commercially viable technologies move forward, and identifies areas that need work for ideas that are not ready for prime time.
Participants’ reactions are best illustrated by quotes from recent surveys that they complete after each workshop:
    "Our coach is remarkable (and provided) a better education than in my marketing MBA class..."
    "Our MBA student was very high caliber and led the way on completing the presentation slides."
    "(We had) a fantastic coach with very in-depth industry knowledge."
    "My team was diverse, extremely supportive, had a lot of great ideas, and worked hard to help guide the idea champion."
    "Our coach was great - knowledgeable and on top of the group’s work. It was a pleasure working with him."

AM&T has been an active supporter of the Pre-Seed Workshop since its inception, contributing over 800 person-hours to help plan and implement the program at multiple locations. AM&T staff have served as team members, coaches and, more recently, to lead the process as a facilitator.
See this and other newsletter articles at
Visit our website at

No comments:

Post a Comment