From bench to business - How to transform a research idea into a product
Eureka! You found the next big thing, but what happens after this groundbreaking discovery? Turning your idea into a finished product is a long journey and most scientists are ill-equipped to start the process. Questions like “how do you build a business case?”, “why is patenting so important?” and “who do you need to talk to?" are easier to answer than you might think. The BioInnovation Institute (BII) in Copenhagen opened the doors to scientists this August to address all those questions and more. In collaboration with the Copenhagen Business School, the BII gave a jump-start into the entrepreneurial world and enabled researchers to hone their skills on self-developed business cases. A plethora of Startup CEOs, Business Developers, and Venture Capitalists lifted the curtains to their world, and in the middle of it all - the three of us thanks to Digital Life Norway! It is possible to become an entrepreneur and here are our take-home messages to help you on the way.
Having a brilliant idea is just the first step. How can you realize it into a real-life product?, © colourbox
Turn your science into a business
In the world of business, the goal is to have products on the market to make money, while in the world of academia, there is no end goal - but rather a continuous journey. Progress in science continuously leads to brilliant new ideas that can be implemented in society to cater for unmet needs. While researchers are strapped for funding (publish or perish) they struggle to tap into funding from other sources like commercialization. Either they lack the know-how, or they loath to market their product. So, might there exist a way to combine the two worlds?
Intellectual Property transforms ideas into products. Patents protect your invention and give your idea a market value. For an invention to be considered patentable, it must be truly novel, inventive, useful, and it cannot have been previously sold, used, or licensed out. Patents enable you to fund your own research, they count as publications on your CV, and help with establishing collaborations with industry partners. By commercializing your invention, you make it available to the public, and attract investors. Thus, patents could be a researcher’s best friend. The most important take-home message is to NEVER publish your findings, in any possible way, before speaking to a patent attorney or your local technology transfer office (TTO).
If you believe that your research offers commercialization opportunities, contact your local TTO sooner rather than later. TTOs will provide the support you need to disclose your invention to your workplace, to apply for additional funding and all the way through the commercialization process. When your invention has gained conceptual proof, it is time to file a patent application. From that moment, your idea is protected and you can publish your academic results as usual. By allowing research to be innovation-driven – one can combine the best from the world of business and the world of academia – and “patent, publish and flourish”.
Communication is key
Getting your message across is a key skill to become a successful entrepreneur. Your journey starts with an idea and you need to be able to convince people to believe in it. From finding co-founders to approaching investors, if nobody understands you it's hard to win them over. Hone your presentation skill and make sure, you are a person people want to listen to. Like the principles in science communication, focus on a general audience and make sure your presentation is understandable for people from varying fields.
One simple interaction with the right person can turn years of research into a breakthrough. The most successful people are often the most connected. Networking can get you all the help you are not even aware of you need. With minimal effort (reaching out on LinkedIn, attending virtual meetups, and most importantly speaking to people) you get new connections and become more visible and noticeable. This also helps you to establish credibility to approach the really important people for a Startup.
The most dreaded interactions are to apply for funding and meeting with investors. Investors can be a Business Angel (a wealthy individual) or Venture capitalists (representing a managed fund). Getting their attention is not easy - turn your network into net worth - and the first impression has to be perfect. Your pitch deck (a short slide deck) has to be as perfect as possible and not only to convey your business plan and milestones. Make sure to present the vision of your business, narrate your story and tell them why THEY are a good match to partner up. The key insight we got from the investors: "The founder team matters most!" Highlight your team's enthusiasm, core competencies, work experiences, if you already have a good history of working together and which impact you want to create. You are in for the long run and they want to know with whom they are dealing. By providing more than a tour guide of your product you start to win them over and build a relationship. All of this can sound intimidating at first, but there is help around the corner.
How to Startup – Help is around the corner
Incubators are nonprofit organizations designed to help start-ups launch their businesses. Being part of an incubator gives a network of successful business partners, provides seed funding and mentorship in an entrepreneurial environment. By being exposed to other entrepreneurs it is easier to learn the trade and it can even spike your inspiration. Many incubators are associated with universities and business schools. It is very easy to reach out and get in touch with them. We can recommend the BII. As the largest incubator in the Nordic region, it offers two programs “Creation House and Venture Lab” for early-stage start-ups. Future founders, click here.
A good business idea is important but your team transforming the idea is the key to success. Having a driven and dedicative team with an open mindset will allow you to master any situation. In a life-cycle of a start-up, you will pivot your business strategy multiple times and you need the right people on board during those times. Combining a winning TEAM and an entrepreneurial environment (Incubators!) will help you to reach the next milestone.
Further down the line, you will have to recruit experts in the field. From your co-workers to the advisory board of your company, it is important to build a strong and diverse team that has the required scientific and business experience to take your company to the next level. Also be aware, that the needs of your company will change over time - so the core competencies of your team have to adapt continuously.
It is hard to summarize the exciting and fully packed week we experienced in Copenhagen. Whether you are just curious about how you can combine research and innovation, or you are an aspiring entrepreneur at heart, we can highly recommend the BII summer school. We hope our selection of insider tips can motivate you to consider taking a leap of faith and combine academia and business. Start by surrounding yourself with the right people that will help hone your idea and make it happen!
Eric Juskewitz (UiT)
Melina Mühlenpfordt (NTNU)
Renate Hvidsten Skoge (UiB)