Techno is a unique entrepreneurship training program for creating high-impact science-based startups. Scientists and engineers are experts in their field but aren’t trained to create healthy and scalable businesses from their science and technology. We provide the skills and resources to start and grow a business to bring science to society.
On June 15, 15 Techno2018 teams pitch their ideas, from self-cleaning coatings for solar panels to new MRI contrast agents. Here are some of the key lessons that the teams will apply to grow their businesses.
Start with your market research
“An idea is just a starting point. Research and change the idea to meet the needs of the market.” Charles Plant, our Impact Centre senior fellow, stressed the importance of proper market research. “Do not assume that there is a market need. Do proper research and speak to as many people as possible.”
Getting to know your consumers is one part of market research. In order to succeed, companies need to understand their customers and design a product that increases triggers and decreases barriers to buy. “You cannot change the customers, but you can change your product to fit into their behaviours.”
Sell a product, not a technology
“One of our early mistakes was meeting customers and ask them, ‘we have a technology that can do a million things, what can we do for you?’” said Darren Anderson, co-founder of Vive Crop Protection. “The result, we burned a lot of time and energy to do different things at the same time.”
Consumers do not need to understand your technology to make a decision to purchase your product. But they do need to see how the product will benefit them. Darren’s advice is to do one thing at a time, not three prototypes, projects or business models at a time.
Target the low-hanging fruit to get traction
Darren Kreamer, founder of Light Matter Interaction, spent years developing and manufacturing products for industrial sectors before finally breaking into healthcare. Even though it had always been his vision to apply his technology to healthcare, he needed time to build traction and prove that the technology works.
Startups often have limited resources, so decide on your focus early on. While it might be tempting to aim for the moon and create the most mind-blowing product from your technology, it is more feasible to aim for the lower-hanging fruit. “You want to target the easiest market so that you can quickly make a product to validate the technology before moving on to the bigger market,” said Prof. Cynthia Goh, director of the Impact Centre.
Finance your startup for the future
The question on every entrepreneur’s mind – how to finance the company. From bootstrapping to raising venture capital, there are numerous ways to finance your startup. Each has its pros and cons. The proper way to look for finance will depend on the stage of the company and how the company plan to grow. The key is planning. “You have to think about where your company is going in the long run, NOW,” Charles Plant said.
Pitch, pitch, and pitch
Pitching might seem daunting, but a great pitch goes a long way in communicating your ideas and making connections. “There is a correlation between how many people you talk to and the success of your launch,” said Richard McAloney, director of technology management and entrepreneurship. Even if they are not investors, they may provide invaluable connections down the line. Network early and network often.
Some tips for an effective pitch: be assertive – do not say ‘I hope’ or ‘I think’; show traction; and practice, practice, practice. Practice as much as possible to have a perfect elevator pitch ready to go.
Be prepared for the unexpected
As an entrepreneur, things might not always go as expected. Arjun Mali, cofounder of iMerciv, advises keeping an extra budget for unexpected expenses and problems. When manufacturing his product, Arjun always orders more parts than the planned number of final products, in case some parts become defective during the process. A comprehensive understanding of the specific industry and how it works will also minimize any surprises that may catch young entrepreneurs off-guard.
Thinking strategically about your IP
For science-based companies, intellectual property sets the competitive edge for your company. But protecting your IP is not always easy. There are different strategies when it comes to IP protection, each work best for different situations.
After launching their product, Adrenalease filed patents in 40 countries – Canada, the USA, and all of Europe (but not China). “Be very strategic when you patent,” said Noureddin Chahrour, founder of Adrenalease. “You need to understand how patent law works in different countries and how your patent is protected.”
“Date” your potential partners before committing to one
Finding a good partner is vital for startups. It may be hard to find a fit and can be costly when things do not work out. Darren Anderson’s advice is to have a dating period with potential partners. “See if you can work together, are able to have frank conversations, and have the same vision for the company.” Darren had a trial period of six months before hiring Vive’s CEO, Keith Thomas.
A tip to find a dedicated team member: pitch your company to the recruit. As a startup, your vision and goal are what motivate others. If you can infuse your vision and passion to your recruit, you will gain a dedicated team member who shares the same vision and values.
Understand your strengths and weakness to get the most out of your team
While entrepreneurs often wear many hats, it is also important to know when to delegate. Recruiting experienced industry people can make an enormous difference early on. Entrepreneurs need to be self-aware of their level of experience, strength and weakness in order to lead effectively. So, hire smart people and listen to them, but make your own decision base on what the company needs.