October 15, 2014
From the invention of the computer mouse to the world’s first video game console, the 1960s marked a time of huge technological achievements. The animated sitcom “The Jetsons” spurred whimsical visions of a futuristic utopia where household robots, flying cars, and regular space travel would be commonalities. The 1960s marked a time when people were constantly asking, “What if?” and was described by historians as the ten years that have had the most significant changes in history. People were aware of the possibilities of technology and were not hard-pressed to believe that flying cars were not too far away.
Nearly 55 years later, there is no doubt that we’ve made significant strides in our technological advances. But where is our space-based solar power? Where are our effective and highly efficient batteries? Even though it may seem that technology is moving fast, there are plenty of times where innovative research comes to a standstill. This is the challenge of bringing technology to market. Brilliant minds across the world may have ideas that could further our goals to a futuristic utopia like what we see in “The Jetsons,” but there are certain roadblocks that prevent technology from being a commercial product.
Judy Giordan, managing director of ecosVC®, has over 33 years of experience translating research to commercial opportunities, an integral part of bringing technology to the market. Among many projects, Giordan has been a National Science Foundation Program Officer for the IGERT Program, which provides traineeships to graduate students to work on interdisciplinary challenges, and has been a Fortune 500 corporate officer and Chief Technical Officer. I was very excited to speak with Giordan to discuss the issues of bringing tech to market as well as what steps have been taken, and what is needed, to spur progression.
Interview with Judy Giordan below:
1. What are the problems of bringing tech to market?
When you think about all the components of bringing tech to market there are some key considerations. First, how do human beings think about the technology – what is needed; what is the problem to be solved? Second, how much time will it take to actually commercialize the technology? Third, how much will the technology cost and where will it be integrated into a given market and what is the value it will provide?
Academic institutions need to play a larger role in commercializing innovative science. Humans are like pack animals, not in a bad way, but we want to know our roles, how we can contribute, and how will we be rewarded? We therefore must ask the question, how do we work to achieve the outcome we want? If the outcome is that we want true commercialization, we must reward faculty and students with the tools to bring the constructs to market and not simply by allowing them to gain a patent.
Most people never appreciate the time it takes to commercialize a scientific or engineering achievement. Unlike a mobile app where you can ask 20 people how they feel about using it, write the code and launch, it takes significant time to figure out how scientific technology meets a demand in the market and then how you will develop and scale that technology. You have to understand the market structure and how your innovation will impact and address challenges in that market.
Cost and integration:
In the end, innovators must think critically about how much their innovation will cost to develop and commercialize and how and where it will be integrated in the value chain in a market. There are many ways to scale a product – from making it yourself, to toll manufacturing to partnering with others to licensing it to others to make. You need to be the type of person who has the time and tenacity to go through the iterations required to develop, scale and sell your product with cost and market integration in mind.
2. What does ecosVC® do to help bring tech to market?
The bottom line is this, most researchers need to understand what society wants and needs from scientific innovations. This is particularly true for those who have not done this before, particularly undergraduates, graduates, and post-docs. ecosVC® works to touch as many universities as we can to aid students and post docs in gaining the skills required to understand how markets and technology commercialization works so that they can use this information along with their excellent backgrounds on science and engineering to address technological challenges armed with both the skills and vocabulary of science and technology commercialization. I contend that it’s no longer possible to come out with a 4.0 in the best university and be guaranteed a great career. Regardless of the career path you would like – academe, industry, government, a non-profit –
having both scientific and market strategy skills and understanding can help you build not only a dream career – but also address real challenges facing us in the 21st Century. That way you have the tools and ideas ready for development and production of a device, as well as the knowledge of how to market it!
3. How is ASU LightWorks providing a solution to this problem?
ASU President Michael Crow has always been a leader and visionary in innovative science. This vision in an academic institution can play a key role in making this transition of bringing technology to market. Research not only needs to fill a demand but it also needs to bring something “to light” that can solve issues for people on this planet. ASU LightWorks works with people like me and organizations like ecosVC®, those who are not always internally or academically focused, to put together the right group to address not only the lab to market problems that initiatives like the Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3) face, but also Arizona as a whole.
Conclusion of interview.
LightWorks is working diligently to find solutions for the problem of bringing energy technologies to market. LightWorks-supported ATP3 is currently working with analysts to detect financial and operational barriers to algae based business models to assess the current state of technology. ATP3 is using data generated by the national network of their algae testbeds to engage techno-economic analysis (TEA) and life cycle assessment (LCA) stakeholders who will examine the economic and environmental impacts of algae-based biofuels and bioproducts. ATP3 hopes to advance algae-based products and biofuels by providing open and free data to the algae community via the Department of Energy’s Open Energy Information Initiative. For more information about ATP3 services and data, visit www.atp3.org. To learn about the data provided by ATP3 and to learn how to access it, read more here.
Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks.