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UW researchers put on their business hats

Written by Debra Bouchegnies / August 8, 2018

Researchers commonly think about their technologies in terms of, well, research. With CoMotion’s Idea To Plan Workshop, these UW innovators get to think more like a business person and reflect on what kind of commercialization path their work could take. A startup, after all, is a temporary organization in search of a repeatable, scalable business model, and this one-day intensive workshop is designed to help with this process through customer discovery and marketing exercises.

The day is broken down into four sessions led by mentors selected by our CoMotion Innovation Managers, experts in taking UW research from idea to impact. The most recent workshop, held in July, featured as speakers Angela Finney, a Seattle marketing consultant; Marie Gill, VP of marketing and business development at Modifi; and Ken Myer,a  commercialization advisor and Foster School of Business Lecturer.

Angela Finney led researchers in a session where they learn how to define the problem they are trying to solve with their innovation, critical to the success of any venture. This session also has teams explore the world of their customer and the ecosystem in which they operate. They are asked to try to understand their jobs, pain points and goals.

Angela advises that if you can understand what problem you’re trying to solve for your customer, you’ll do a better job of figuring out the right business model for your venture. She emphasizes the importance of getting into the shoes of the customer. In doing so, they may discover that it might be best to modify the way they initially envisioned taking their solution to market, noting that this process results in a more authentic solution and reduces risk.

Marie Gill’s session helped researchers articulate their value proposition and explain what it was they created. They’ve spent a lot of time in the lab or in research mode–now, at Idea To Plan, teams learn how to connect their idea with those around them in the community.  Gill speaks highly of the CoMotion team, who help to foster and incubate the great ideas coming out of the UW so that we get to benefit as a community.  And for her, being able to play a small part in this process is a lifetime dream.

Ken Myer led the last two sessions, first with an exercise on how to prepare to  interview potential customers, including how you develop the hypothesis of what you want to go test and learn about, and how to conduct the interviews themselves. For the second session, Ken demonstrated how important it is to tell an effective story–whether that’s to a potential customer, investor, a new employee or even a family member!

A variety of audiences should be able to understand your product or solution, and then they can be helpful to you in building a business. Ken cautions that people have a tendency to think purely about their product–but they need to consider their customers after they’ve developed it. Product development and customer discovery needs to be done in tandem, and the value you are delivering to your customers–and what your product needs to be to satisfy them–should be continuously revised.

As they go through the customer discovery and marketing exercises at the CoMotion Idea To Plan workshop, entrepreneurial researchers learn to develop an agile mindset and commercialization tool set to the scientific problem they’ve solved in order to move their research to market–and based on findings from this workshop and ongoing work with CoMotion mentors, they become much better equipped to build what the market really wants.

If you’re a UW faculty member or researcher with an innovation, and you’d like to learn more about how to make an impact through commercialization, request a consultation with an Innovation Manager today!