A Publication of WTVP

A local nonprofit provides technology commercialization assistance to area innovators.

One challenge innovators often face is assessing the real business opportunity for a new idea. Innovators are creative. They often invent or solve problems on a regular basis, which can lead to multiple innovations. But knowing which innovations are of real value can be a challenge. One way to overcome that challenge is to work with the Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Bradley University to commercialize a technology.

The Illinois SBDC at Bradley University is housed in the Turner Center for Entrepreneurship in the Foster College of Business. It offers a program of counseling and training to support the growth and success of area businesses, including startup assistance, financing, strategic planning, international trade, technology commercialization, government contracting and succession planning.

An operating business with an existing product line is already executing a business strategy. Conversely, a startup seeking to commercialize a new innovation is searching for a successful business model. To aid in that search, we advise our clients through a stage-gate process. The stages include: Discovery, Feasibility, Development, Introduction and Growth. Each stage-gate focuses on assessing three components of business development, including innovation, the potential market and the business opportunity. In the Discovery Stage, for example, we investigate the initial hypotheses of the product idea, the expected target market and the initial business resources required.

When one has a new idea, the first questions to ask are: What problem is the innovation solving? What need is it filling? Is the pain—or the need—significant enough to create a business opportunity? To answer these questions, we begin by helping clients establish a problem hypothesis, or statement. Once a person can clearly identify and articulate the problem being addressed, we can begin to identify the proposed value proposition for the supposed target client. With a clearly hypothesized problem, value proposition and target customer, we can develop inexpensive ways to validate the hypotheses, which is all part of the Discovery Stage.

Product Assessment
During product assessment in the Discovery Stage, the inventor or company needs to assess viability from a technical and proprietary perspective. Questions that need to be answered include: Is the product unique? What are the related patents, and how are they different? Is this idea technically scalable? What are the state-of-the-art competitive technologies?

We advise clients on strategies to discover the answers to these questions. We do not provide legal advice, but we can help research and identify potentially competing patents through licensed databases, which bring high-end patent search and analysis in an easy-to-read format. This helps clients gain a better idea of the intellectual property landscape around a technology, and can identify potentially competing products, as well as primary researchers and companies in a given industry. Of course, if a client decides to move forward with pursuing protection of intellectual property, they will need to meet with a patent attorney or agent. To further assist with product assessment, we help network our clients with professors at Bradley University or other experts in our network that may be able to provide key insights into new technologies and industries.

Market Assessment
In the market assessment of the Discovery Stage, we help clients address customer discovery, partner discovery and market demographics. Some questions to be addressed include: What are the customer’s requirements and viewpoints? Does the customer recognize there is a problem worth solving? What is the overall size of the market, and who are the players in that market?

Utilizing the Business Model Canvas, a template for developing or documenting business models, and concepts from The Lean Startup, a business development method based on lean manufacturing, we help clients begin to answer these questions. We assist with identifying potential target customers to interview and the appropriate questions to ask them. The customer discovery process helps define the real problem, if any, as perceived by the proposed client. It also helps determine whether the problem is big enough to create a true business opportunity.

When it comes to discovery of the market size and demographics, the Turner Center offers access to sophisticated market research databases that provide strategic insight and analysis in more than 1,000 industries, company-specific insights into more than 14 million companies, and financial analysis benchmarking tools for industry. These tools help companies determine the challenges and opportunities for commercializing their new technology in a given industry.

Business Assessment
Throughout the business assessment of the Discovery Stage, we help clients assess the personnel needs for launching a product in a given industry, the initial financial needs for taking an innovation through the commercialization process, competitor pricing and supply chain requirements for their particular industry. Questions to address include: What experience is required in launching this type of innovation? What financial, technical or other resources are required to commercialize this technology?

To aid in business assessment, we offer networking opportunities with investors at an early stage so innovators can get useful feedback on their ideas and gain insight into the costs associated with launching a new product. Using another highly-effective tool, GrowthWheel, we can provide worksheets to help address issues in business assessment, and in each of the stage-gates. Available to licensed and certified advisors, GrowthWheel is a toolbox for decision-making in startup and growth companies. It helps entrepreneurs get focus, set agendas, make decisions and take action.

The Illinois SBDC at Bradley University has helped numerous innovators and companies successfully achieve their objectives. In 2014 alone, we assisted over 470 clients. Those clients reported starting 27 new businesses, filing over 20 new patent applications and raising over $2.4 million in non-debt financing. To learn more, call (309) 677-4321 to begin the discussion. iBi

Chad Stamper is director of technology commercialization at the Illinois SBDC at Bradley University, with more than 12 years of experience in bringing new products to market and launching companies.