ITECS Feasibility Study

feasibility studyITECS routinely works with clients new to pursuing federal and state R&D funding. These clients are often trying to answer the basic questions of whether they can benefit from these funding sources, and how to get started. To answer these questions, ITECS has developed a funding “feasibility study.”

Our feasibility study is based on understanding our clients’ growth objectives and existing innovation processes. Through primary and secondary research, we look to understand where these factors best match federal and state funding priorities, and to define the best possible paths forward to help our clients refine a vision for successful funded projects. The feasibility study is typically a 10-12-week engagement, during which we seek to answer two key questions: (1) what is the opportunity, and (2) what’s the best approach to take advantage of it?

ITECS results can be used to initiate an internal funding program, to allocate resources and build support, and to start seeding a pipeline of programs that take advantage of the $130 billion in annual federal and state science and technology funding. Our clients use these results to ensure that they are starting from a solid foundation, and are efficiently using their internal resources to maximize the opportunity to pursue disruptive innovation.

Don’t hesitate to contact ITECS and learn how our process can work for your company!

Phil Smith, Ph.D.

Following Your Passion

Follow Your Passion sign with a beach on backgroundAt the end of 2016, I discussed the value of time. As a very good friend had told me – “We are in the last quarter of this big game called life. How are you going to spend the rest of your life?” This gave me a lot to think about. Even though we have longevity in my family and I probably am in the third quarter you still want to make every minute count.

Fortunately, last year I promoted Phil Smith to oversee helping our clients get government funding. At the time, this was about 80 percent of ITECS’ business. It was very scary for me however; it was the best thing I have ever done. It allowed me to re-evaluate how I wanted to spend the rest of my career. I found out that the times when I was most happy in my career was when I was facilitating some sort of change. So, I decided I want to be a “change agent”.

As luck would have it, several of these types of projects just landed in my lap and I delivered them myself. I was able to prove to myself that my mind did not turn to complete mush as a manager, and not only could I offer value to my clients, but I could also have fun.  I had the opportunity to work on:

  • Helping a personal care company develop and implement an innovation initiative
  • Developing a growth strategy working with the CEO of a high-tech company, and mentor his leadership team to deliver on it
  • Understanding a service businesses existing value proposition and found adjacent markets
  • Helping the leadership team of a chemicals company evaluate the R&D group and make suggestions for improvement

I really like these types of projects because they allow me to develop a much more intimate relationship with the client, seeing the big picture and making a difference.  It also allows me to get my hands wet.

Right now, I am wrestling with developing a marketing plan.  It is so different from helping large companies and universities leverage the federal government because my focus has always been on the big R&D organizations.   This service could be sold to anyone that has the need to change.  If you have any brilliant ideas, I would be open to hearing them. Just give me a call: (404) 934-9161

While I figure this out, Phil will work on his passion, which is helping get R&D funding for our clients. It is a win-win all the way around.

Susan Neylon, Ph.D. (formally Ward)

Time for Reflection

reflectionAs the year is coming to an end,  it is time to look back and take inventory of how life is progressing.  This year, I lost a very dear friend which will always leave whole in my heart.  While heart breaking many wonderful things also happened.  My son got married to a woman I adore, we had the thrill of developing a relationship with our new grandson, we went to family reunions, took a motorcycle trip across country, and went to Costa Rica with Jim’s kids.  We got to see monkeys, manta rays, octopi, and many wonderful sea creatures.  We have our health.  We simply live in the best place on earth with friends that we love and admire.  So all and all, it is a good life.

The Ex-CTO and the Service Dog

ned-polanIn 2008 Ned Polan decided he didn’t want the headaches of industrial research, a $20MM budget, and more than 100 PhD organic synthesis chemists. So he quit, moved to Massachusetts, and start a new, more charitable, direction–first as a SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) volunteer counselor with the US Small Business Administration. It was a very difficult and frustrating time to try to help people start up small businesses.  

He then acquired a golden retriever puppy, serendipitously from an old friend, from whom he had received a dog from 35 years ago.  Brinkley turned out to be exceptionally responsive to individuals under stress and, therefore, Ned trained him as a therapy dog. Brinkley is now six and holds the AKC top title: Distinguished Therapy Dog. Together they make weekly visits to a psychiatric hospital, the MA Soldiers Home, a hospital rehab department, a crisis intervention and stabilization center, and a program for kids with persistent emotional and behavioral challenges. Two years ago they wanted a higher challenge and qualified and joined a national canine crisis response organization. They had four week-long trips to the Washington Navy Yard after the shootings there, have been to a tornado site, and to Charleston, SC after the church shootings.  Brinkley’s received a Meritorious Service Award from the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations, and has been made an honorary life member of the Medical Reserve Corps. People affected by crises and disasters will interact with a dog, talk about their experiences and start the recovery process when they will not say a word to people. They made presentations to FEMA, state emergency management agencies, service clubs and community organizations, and nursing and medical schools. Ned says this is the most fun and rewarding time he has had in his whole life.

Business Model Innovation

goodyear-showI had a wonderful opportunity to interview the Holland Award winner Abhijit Ganguly from Goodyear. The Holland award goes to the best paper from Research Technology Management Magazine and is quite an honor. This particular subject however was extremely interesting to me, as usually the papers focus around research innovation. This paper however focused on Business Model Innovation. Below are the excerpts of the interview.

Susan: Abhijit, it is quite an honor receiving the Holland Award. Not only did you develop a better mousetrap but you are willing to share it with the world. Can you talk a bit about the over all concept?

Abhijit: Business model innovation is talked about quite a bit. But identifying business models & understanding if they work or not, is poorly understood. At Goodyear, we posit that business model innovation:

  • Creates value for users
  • Captures value for a firm in a competitive environment
  • Involves untested assumptions

But there was no way to build & test business models. The state of practice only helped us “describe” a business model end to end, which is useful to know if you have missed any ”elements” in a business model. But that was not sufficient for us. We needed to “come up” with new business models. And we needed a way to do this.

Susan: Who within the organization develops the business model options? Can you talk about your down selection process?

Abhijit: We have a dedicated innovation team which does this. Normally, if your innovation fits your current business model (whatever it is), you don’t need new business model options. This type of innovation should merge with your existing business model just fine. Example, an innovative laundry detergent from P&G that fits the retail shelves @ Walmart. Or an innovative tire from Goodyear. But, if you have innovated a new product or service that just refuses to conform to your current business model, you are perhaps better off dedicating a team to build a new one.

Susan: In your paper, you talk about a ‘Wide Lens’ approach that includes a variety of assumptions. How do you test those assumptions?

Abhijit: Wide Lens is about understanding your ecosystem in a holistic way, as outlined by Ron Adner in his book. You may think you have done a good days’ work if you have built the right product for the right users at the right cost – and beaten your competition to market. But, you cannot just stop there. You need to widen your lens & understand

  • Who else needs to succeed before you can succeed?
  • Who else needs to adopt your innovation before your users can assess the full value proposition?

Ron Adner’s work in this area remains a great resource for us. As far as testing assumptions go, we employ a variety of “business experiments”. The experiments are constructed around a well framed set of assumptions.

Susan: You mention in your talk a lot about the ability to de-risk. What are some of the ways that you can de-risk a project? How do you measure whether you are successful?

Abhijit: The only way to de-risk a business model is to go out to the field & conduct business experiments. We have conducted business experiments that have

  1. Probed level of value creation
  2. Demonstrated willingness to pay (based on a currency of exchange that did not involve a finished product or money)
  3. Validated our operating cost structure
  4. Tested channel effectiveness
  5. Understood technology in use
  6. Understood human interaction with technology (where behavioral changes were key to success)

Success for is all about taking good decisions on innovation projects. When the experiments shed light on the assumptions, we are able to take out the risks that something will fail AFTER we have invested time & (lots of) money behind it.

Susan: What was you biggest challenge in implementing this new process?

Abhijit: We had to build the capability by creating a dedicated innovation team that was able to think in this way. We have a great team, but it took time to build. The mindset is hard to find (or quickly train to where we need to be).

Susan: Can you give any recommendations for people that would want to implement a similar process in their organization with how to proceed?

Abhijit: If you are building business models away from your core, you should find this process useful. Or in the minimum, find some of the underlying concepts we have used at Goodyear to be of value. A key recommendation is to not expect new business models to emerge from the core of daily operations. This is because ongoing operations are constrained by bandwidth (even if the people have the skills). There is hardly time to craft & test new business models given the press of business.

Susan: Again I would like to thank you for sharing your story with our readers.

Developing Winning Proposals

red team review titleOver the last 15 years ITECS has helped their clients capture over $300MM in government grants. During the next few months we’ll be highlighting some of the services that ITECS offers to help companies be more successful in pursuing federal and state funding. The first of these services has become one of our most popular: the Red Team Review. This is a formal review of your company’s proposal draft prior to its submission, where the ITECS team focuses on identifying strengths, weaknesses and other gaps, and on developing and presenting solutions that improve the likelihood of a successful funding outcome.

Our red team review panels are staffed by experts with years of experience in developing and reviewing proposals. They have a strong understanding of trends and drivers at the agency level, and many have served as reviewers for federal or state agencies. We follow a well-defined process to rapidly review your proposal and deliver our findings, ensuring that your team has sufficient time to implement our recommendations. Our clients appreciate a fresh, experienced perspective, and the substantial impact that these insights can have during the critical “final push” before submission. Whether your company is new to federal funding, or is an experienced contractor looking to refine your process, ITECS can help! Don’t hesitate to reach out for more information on how ITECS’ service can improve your proposal submissions.

It is Not What We Do, It is How We Do It

local-motors-logoLast month, I talked about two companies that adjusted their business model to market and commercialize technologies that they did not invent. In this edition I am going to highlight a company that does the opposite.  Local Motors originally made custom cars through posting challenges so engineers from across the country could help them design cars.  They would prototype these designs through advanced manufacturing and work with their customers to assemble the vehicle.  This model was so successful that they decided to expand their business into other markets.  Instead however, of finding the end users themselves they would let others do the marketing and manufacturing for them.  They now offer a service that helps other companies like GE and AirBus leverage the Local Motors engineering network and advanced manufacturing to quickly develop new products in a wide variety of markets.  Below is an interview I had with Adam Kress, Director of Public Relations & Content.

Susan Neylon – How would you describe Local Motors?

Adam Kress –Local Motors is a technology company that designs, builds and sells vehicles, and co-creation is at the heart of what we do. By combining co-creation with local micro-manufacturing, we are creating a better world through hardware. We invite the global community of solvers, makers, and technologists to join us as together we create technology-forward products that inspire, empower, and nurture humanity. In addition to building vehicles, the Local Motors  co-creation platform is also used by other companies looking to rapidly develop products.

Susan Neylon – Can you give me an example?

Adam Kress – Airbus came to Local Motors to ask us to help them develop a cargo-drone that could lift medical supplies (2 1/2 kgs) for 100 kilometers. They realized that they needed to be agile to meet this market need as they were competing with companies other than those in the traditional aerospace sector. We posted the challenge and successful found a solution to their need.

Susan Neylon – How do you attract your community of inventors?

Adam Kress – The more exposure we get, the better it is for attracting community members. Many of our products, like the 3D-printed car, have garnered a lot of media attention, and that helps drive people to the website and our co-creation platform. We also have very robust social media efforts where we teach people about our challenges and encourage them to join.

Susan Neylon – How do your inventors get rewarded?

Adam Kress – Typically they get a cash reward for winning a challenge and then also a percentage of revenue from vehicles sold. In addition to monetary rewards, our community members enjoy the positive reinforcement within the community of inventors.  

Susan Neylon – A couple years ago, most of your manufacturing was  done traditionally, by hand.  I was impressed with your 3D-printing capabilities.  

Adam Kress –  3D printing and Direct Digital Manufacturing will change the way we build products. You are able to take a concept for a new vehicle directly from digital image to physical, printed piece.

Susan Neylon – What is your next project?

Adam Kress – We are hard at work to develop the world’s first highway-certified 3D-printed car. We expect to see a low-speed version debut next year with the full highway vehicle in 2018.

Susan Neylon – What keeps you up at night?

Adam Kress – The excitement of the job. There is always so much going on that it can be a big challenge at times to keep up. However, I love that our goals are so big and we’re chasing them with vigor.

Susan Neylon – I wish you all the success in commercializing the first highway-certified 3D- printed car.

The ITECS Process for Building Runway

 by Phil Smith

runwayThe most common frustration that we hear about from companies who have tried to initiate a funding program is the short time window between an opportunity’s release and the submission deadline. The unfortunate reality is that this window is virtually never enough time to formulate a robust program concept, build a competitive team, and develop a polished submission. Developing proposals under time pressures often leads to missing key insights or details, or to deviating from a company’s internal strategic direction and timeline.  A core component of ITECS’ service is to work with companies to extend this timeline and increase the odds of a successful submission.

One of our starting places is a detailed review of a company’s interests, and matching this up with what we know about federal and state priority areas. A starting place is a detailed review of the annual President’s Budget. Knowing where to look and how to interpret funding levels and plans, and understanding the external political and agency climate, becomes a great starting place for where a company’s interests fit into federal priorities. Once this starting place is established a more focused approach can be developed. This approach might include one-on-one meetings, or participation in workshops, industry days, or other planning activities. These actions can help a company develop a program vision that’s competitive for federal funding opportunities, but that remains aligned with their own strategic interests.

Developing a process-driven approach to funding that’s tailored to a company’s needs is core to ITECS’ service model. Whether your company is new to funding or has had past successes that it’s looking to extend into new areas, we can help. Don’t hesitate to reach out to learn more!

Turning Dreams Into Realities

turn_dreams_into_reality_by_isaacmark-d36eqk4Over the last several months I have been highlighting revolutionary technology that is making a difference in the world. For a change of pace, this month I will highlight companies that have adapted different business models to more effectively commercialize new technologies.

The first company, Thomas Swan, has been doing business since 1926. They leverage their expertise in manufacturing and their reach into the marketplace to help entrepreneurs that might not have the means to commercialize new technology to get their products to market. They are privately owned which gives them lots of running room to make the long term investments needed for a successful product launch.

The second company, Ultratech, changed its model from inventing its own technology to finding the right applications for revolutionary technologies. This metamorphosis came after the founder went to a Nanotechnology conference with his son and realized that very few of the inventors had a clue on where the technology would be useful. He felt his business savvy and market knowledge would help these inventors commercialize their technologies.

Both of these companies provide a win-win situation. The inventors of the technology get to realize their dreams of seeing their technology in the market place and receive a piece of the profits. The companies continue to foster their brands as innovators and have new products and platforms to fuel their growth. Read more about Thomas Swan and UltraTech.