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Idea to Plan helps researchers think business

Written by Meg Herndon / October 19, 2018

From devices that help first responders assess their surroundings to vests that enable doctors to find tumors, University of Washington researchers are hard at work solving real-world problems through biomedical research, engineering, computer science, and more. However, many of these budding entrepreneurs don’t have backgrounds in business or the tools needed to bring their products to market. Twice each year, our innovation managers and mentors work to boost their business savvy at Idea to Plan, an event hosted by UW CoMotion.

“Our entrepreneurs are experts in their fields, but most of them aren’t experts in business,” says Laura Dorsey, a Senior Innovation Manager at CoMotion. “Idea to Plan helps them move beyond their research and start thinking about their technologies as businesses.”

During this whirlwind day-long training, innovator teams made up of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members work through a series of exercises to address challenges many young companies face.

“It’s a crash course in understanding your target customer, what their problem is, and what value you’re offering them,” Dorsey says. “For example, many of our entrepreneurs are in medicine and they know how their technology will help the patient. Patients are part of the ecosystem, but we help them think about the rest of the picture: who buys the technology, who actually uses it, and who else they need to talk to.”

Local leaders in business development volunteer as mentors for this event and play a large role in the training.

From leading exercises that help innovators talk about their product in lay terms to helping craft detailed explanations for why their technologies solve real and pressing problems, these business experts provide an aspect of mentorship most of these teams haven’t previously received.

Groups leave the training with an action plan for how to move their innovations forward. This includes a pipeline of potential customers to contact, a list of questions to ask, and other ways to gain insight for turning their prototype solutions into thriving businesses.

“They leave with a better understanding of who their customer is and specific challenges they’re facing,” Dorsey says. “And that emboldens them to get out and talk to people. That’s when groups really start understanding their market and taking their ideas to the next level.”

Entrepreneurs interested in participating in the next Idea to Plan workshop should contact their CoMotion innovation managers to learn more. Or if you are not yet working with one of our innovation managers yet, request a consultation to get started.