As a continuation to my previous blog on transition from scientist to entrepreneur, I will be going over an important question that every scientist should start thinking about from day one of his or her grad school/postdoc tenure: “Can I productize my research?” or “To which existing product can my research add value?”
As a scientist, we inadvertently think about publication of our research in research journals. The higher the impact of the journal, the more prestigious the work is considered, and we don’t mind spending a year or more trying to publish in a higher impact journal! But we often fail to think about how much more impactful our research could be if we can actually strive to translate that research into a tangible product, or improve an existing technology/product.
Are there resources on campus that can help you think through whether your work can be productized or add value to companies out there? I will be discussing how you can do so in the following sections:
Start by doing your own research!
As a graduate student or postdoc, you are often an expert in doing the background research on your work. Most of us try to keep ourselves updated with current research anyways. You just need to extend this to industry research. Pick a few companies/industries that are working in a similar area of research as yours, and follow what they are doing.
Dig deeper and follow things like their clinical trials, product development process, annual reports, annual financial reports, etc. Look into not only their successes, but also their failures. If you think your research findings are better than theirs, or could complement the industry findings, think about what you could do to work together with those industries or by starting your own company!
Idea evaluation: Who do we talk to next?
Professors/research advisors – Most of the time, your professors are considered as experts in your area of research, and their opinion is still considered the golden standard in the industry. So, industries try to work with professors through consulting agreements. (This practice of consulting for industries has become more prevalent off late). As a result, the professors are well versed with what is going on in the industries. You could use this to your advantage by requesting them to evaluate the merit in your research and opportunities to work with a company in translating your research to a product or starting a company!
If you are lucky, your professors might help you make those initial introductions to experts in the industry that could assist you in this process. It has been my experience that while talking to these industry experts, you might actually find other uses to your research that you might not have thought of! They might even direct you to get additional data that might make your research findings more valuable.
Of course this means additional work and need for additional funds. But, this validation/suggestion could be the idea/seed for your next grant, whether you continue as a graduate student or a postdoc. You can actually try to see if the industry could support your research to get that extra funding, or at least give you a letter of support, that could add value to the grant proposal.
SBIR/STTR grants are a good way of getting funds for starting companies based on your research findings. Sometimes, universities have “bridge funds” to help you with commercializing your research. You might want to look around for such funding mechanisms.
Intellectual Property Office (IP)/ Technology transfer offices (TTO) – Most universities have an intellectual property office or a technology transfer office that are responsible for patenting the research originating from labs at universities. They are often the bridges that can effectively connect universities to industries.
Once a professor/researcher discloses their research finding to the IP/TTO, these offices evaluate the prior art in your area of research, and file for patents where possible. One of the most important jobs they take up is to identify companies that can actually use the technology developed at universities. As a result, companies looking for new technologies often approach these IP/TTO to license these technologies.
The reason I’m mentioning about IP/TTO is that you could actually approach them for connecting to industry experts, if you are not able to do so through your professors. The licensing offices would be happy to work with you. In the recent times, there has been an increased pressure on technology transfer offices to commercialize the university research. So, added interest and effort from you could actually help both the parties!
****One important thing you always want to keep in mind while talking to industries or anyone outside of the university is to inform the concerned university authorities (mostly TTO). Appropriate protection of the intellectual property is necessary before such talks happen. The TTO will be happy to walk you through the process and also facilitate such talks.
If there is one person who cares more about your research, it is you! So, it becomes your responsibility to take that next step of trying to create an impact by not allowing your work to get lost in a publication or your bound thesis!