Companies rocket to success faster than ever before. But they also fall back to earth at a speed we are unaccustomed to. The slow death of giants like Yahoo!, and the overnight collapse of others like MySpace, speak to a common problem: one new idea will only take you so far.
That is why companies are now beginning to take on the challenge of finding their second and third and fourth big idea long before they are at risk of losing relevance. We live in an era of accelerated innovation, and everywhere we look companies are chasing new ideas to stay afloat.
So how does the average entrepreneur respond to this climate? Not everyone has the resources of robust R&D teams and limitless cash flow from public investors. Instead, most entrepreneurs are limited to a pencil and a piece of paper sitting on their desk where they wrack their brains for unique solutions to problems.
"A breakthrough idea or business concept does not remain relevant for nearly as long as it did before the information revolution," says Clifford Gross, a thought leader in University IP and the founder of Tekcapital. "Today, innovation has a very short shelf life. Companies are constantly looking for new sources of knowledge and are increasingly seeing the value in IP coming out of academic institutions around the world."
Today, companies are finding ways to work with universities as a lifeline to new and novel ideas that they couldn't have found on their own. This infusion of intellectual capital into the economy promises to accelerate innovation even more, while providing those companies who are plugged into the ideastream with a significant advantage.
Thousands of universities have research departments that span every imaginable discipline, from medicine to agriculture to rocket science. And collaboration between the private sector and research institutions has an important role to play for both parties, not just the companies receiving the ideas.
"Governments have long encouraged university-industry collaboration, hoping to spur innovations that bring jobs, investment and life-enhancing products," explains an article published by Nature. "At the same time, shrinking government budgets for science have forced universities to look to other sources of funding. According to the US National Science Foundation, in 2012, industry supplied just over 5% (some US$3.2 billion) of US research universities' annual expenditure."
The relationship between industry and academic research programs is facilitated by Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs), which meticulously account for the ideas that have the potential to go to market and achieve patents or licenses. But for entrepreneurs seeking access to that community, getting into the network of TTOs is a significant research and networking challenge. Entrepreneurs have stepped up to facilitate that transfer in increasingly fluid ways.
There are numerous firms that will consult with entrepreneurs to help them find IP at leading universities, but not all are created equal and not everyone is ready to throw down money for that service. Entrepreneurs interested in sourcing IP should start with educational resources like Tech Transfer Central Blog, which can inform and direct initial research.
Tekcapital released an app earlier this year that allows users to search for IP from their smartphones. This is a good way to get a feel for what is out there, identify technology you may want, and get your creative wheels spinning.
Entrepreneurs who are ready to throw themselves into technology transfer and IP sourcing can look to attend conferences, like the University-Industry Interaction Conference that brings together academics, governments, and business leaders to discuss advances in the field.
Technology transfer is not for every business, but it certainly is not reserved for mega corporations with large budgets. It is highly accessible via the right channels and every entrepreneur should maintain an awareness of how it works. The speed of innovation is only increasing, which means successful executives will keep a war chest of strategies for keeping up.
"Opportunity in innovation is a numbers game," explains Gross. "With thousands of universities tackling new technological concepts all over the world, some of them are bound to have the answers individual corporate objectives. Technology transfer as an industry is likely to grow in size and importance, becoming a resource for more businesses than ever before."
In an economy where surviving means playing multiple moves ahead of the field, this is a tool every entrepreneur should keep in their back pocket.