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Five ways innovation training helps entrepreneurs thrive

Written by Meg Herndon / December 14, 2018

UW faculty, researchers, students, staff and Labs members come to CoMotion with lots of big ideas. From building better football helmets to creating a tourniquet to prevent amputations, to the development of regenerative therapies for neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease, our community is full of groundbreaking innovation – but most of these innovators need guidance to turn their ideas into products, services, and companies. That’s why we offer innovation training. CoMotion Innovation Training equips innovators with the mindset, tools, and skills essential to build a successful business.

“We want people to know that they can bring their innovation into the world,” says Magali Eaton, Assistant Director for Innovation Training at CoMotion. “It doesn’t have to translate into a big for-profit company; it can be as involved as the beginning of an entrepreneurial career, or something they do on the side. As long as they’re motivated and pursue a venture that’s aligned with their goals, they will be able to bring their vision to life – and CoMotion Innovation Training can help them do that.”

“One innovator came to us with a great idea for a high-tech, personalized earplug,” Eaton said. “She first thought to sell this to industrial sites featuring loud environments but she found it was the wrong fit. After going through one of our programs, she realized this high-tech device was better aligned for a different market: music venues and festivals. She is now pursuing her venture with a much higher chance of success – that’s what innovation training is all about.”

CoMotion offers a number of innovation training programs that help researchers and other innovators including:

Prototyping and building: CoMotion MakerSpace

The CoMotion MakerSpace, located in Fluke Hall, offers UW students, staff, and faculty more than 6,000 square feet of space filled with resources to build their creations. They provide tools like 3D printers, laser cutters, AR/VR technology, a wood shop, and more, giving community members a chance to explore these technologies and prototype their ideas.

“I feel really comfortable grabbing some other makers and saying “Alright, I want to make this crazy thing, any ideas how?” said Tracy Tran, UW student majoring in computer science and engineering.

Collaboration is at the heart of this space: the UW community can participate in group work sessions, trainings, workshops, and more to explore our breadth of resources and make their innovations a reality.

Developing a business mindset: Idea to Plan

When researchers have a concrete idea of what they want to bring to market, the CoMotion Idea to Plan workshop is the next step. The goal is to get participants to think past their innovations as technologies and to start thinking about them as businesses.

“It’s a mindset shift from being in the technology world to understanding the people they’re serving,” Eaton says. “The questions they need to think about are ‘Do I have customers? Who are those customers?’ and ‘What do I provide for them?’”

Mentorship is a key aspect of this training. Established entrepreneurs help innovators with key challenges in the early stages of building a business, such as talking about their product in lay terms and narrowing down the problem they’re hoping to solve.

“It was very helpful to think a bit more like a business person rather than an engineer,” said workshop participant Thierry Moreau. “[Idea to plan] let us think about what kinds of commercialization avenues our work can have….[and] exchange ideas with people who have entrepreneurial experience. It was a great experience and we look forward to learning more from CoMotion.”

Understanding customers: I-Corps

The next step in innovation training helps researchers do a deep dive into customer discovery. Through the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps™), a federally funded program that helps researchers move toward commercialization, students and faculty can obtain funding for customer discovery.

“Talking to customers is the first step to building a company,” Eaton says. “We give innovators funding and training on how to do that, then they go out to the world and interview people. They can interview customers, competitors, policy makers – anyone who will give them insight to creating product market-fit.”

Funding your idea: CoMotion Innovation Gap Fund

CoMotion’s Innovation Gap Fund is a partnership between CoMotion and the Washington Research Foundation to provide up to $1 million per year for applied research. We award $50K to 20 companies to fund the gap between academic research grants and seed stage investment.

The application process also provides training. Innovators must provide deliverables about their technologies and customers throughout the application process and participate in customer-discovery and marketing workshops—and pitching practice along the way. Those who receive funding are allocated $40K for developing their project and $10K for further business development.

Growing your company: Fundamentals for Startups Fridays, grant programs, and DubPitch

Once innovators have the funding they need to produce prototypes, they start moving into startup territory. We have several programs that help innovators build their companies including:

  • Fundamentals for Startups Fridays : Weekly seminars open to the public that address how to build a company, how to pitch to a venture capitalist and other pertinent topics.
  • SBIR training: Coaching and training on applying for SBIR and STTR federal grants for small businesses
  • DubPitch: Investor pitch practice to hone skills and potentially receive funding

Together, these programs create a suite of resources for innovators at various points in their journey – with the goal of helping them navigate the path from idea to impact.

Visit the CoMotion Innovation Training page or contact us at CoMtrain@uw.edu to learn more about our innovation training programs.