So you have invented a cool new technology that you think will transform the market.
BUT to commercialise anything, a very important and deceptively simple question must be answered – how do we make money from this?
There are many organisations that can help answer this question: University commercialisation units, Government agencies and professional business advisors, to name a few.
One option: start a company to either further develop the technology, or use it as the core for a range of new products. Sounds easy when you hear stories about the beginning of Microsoft, Apple and Virgin, to name a few. The reality is that only 1 out of every 20 start-up companies is a success.
I have been part of four start-up ventures, two are still going, one folded and one never got off the ground after key funding was withdrawn at the last minute without warning. I also worked for myself for over 2 years.
In the beginning there is huge risk, so this option is not for the fainthearted. There is excitement, anticipation and dread, all at the same time. Having a plan is one thing, execution of the plan is paramount, and – more often than not – it changes from day one of operation and is continually modified after that. So you learn to be adaptable very quickly.
The longest I worked at a single start-up company was 5 years. That company is now 15 years old. It was fun at the start, with a small group doing lots of cool science, seven people in an office, sharing a few computers and desks. In terms of life and work experience, it was second to none. I learnt how to be flexible in my approach to all things, how to manage groups, manage project timelines and budgets, write research grants and proposals for money (with success), and how to pitch to potential investors like venture capitalists and business angels. I also learnt a lot of new science along the way. And we watched as a new technology park with only two other tenants was built around us. Then one morning, the company went from 23 employees to 8 – we’d run out of money. So we spent the next few months doing nothing but surfing the internet, being told almost every day to back up our files as the company would be gone by lunchtime. Not fun. After all that, we were saved with an injection of funding, so the focus went back to building the company again. That was towards the end of my time there though, and the stress levels were high.
Experiences like that can prepare you for many things in life.
Suffice to say that being part of a start-up company can be a roller coaster ride of emotions and experiences, with high points and low points, and everything in between, and is not for everyone. It is never as easy as it may seem from the outside, but it is satisfying to be able to say “I was there at the beginning”.