In May 2020, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs and UW CoMotion co-hosted a virtual professional development event focused on helping postdocs explore ways to commercialize your research products (check out the full recording). Four scientists in various entrepreneurial stages shared their insights on how to effectively take their research from discovery to market.
Briefly, there are four major paths of research distribution: license innovation to an existing company or a new start-up, building an internal business at UW, and open distribution. Prior to making any decisions, consider the implications of each path, including risk, personal commitment, types of financial return, degree of control, and your ability to achieve success and independence. UW CoMotion provides guidance on innovation training, IP advising, protection & licensing, start-ups & incubator, funding & partnerships. You can always schedule an appointment to discuss which path works best for you.
Here, we summarize three strategies to assist you as you consider commercializing your research efforts.
Assess your interest and values. Are you interested in teamwork, creating a business model, or understanding the market demand of a certain product? Do you value the market impact of your research product and have a desire to start a business? Starting a company involves more than one person – you will need to collaborate and share similar values and goals with your partner (or partners). The ultimate goal of commercialization is to turn your research into a product with market value and make a difference! Spend time discussing common values, goals, and expectations. Remember, there’s no single path to success. Your goal is to create a product that has an impact – commit to a plan, but be willing to modify your path as you move through different stages of product and company development. Check out the 10 simple rules to commercialize scientific research.
Identify your support network. At the OPA, we strongly encourage you to build a mentoring team, regardless of your career aspirations. You need a support network of people who can assist you in different ways. This is particularly important on the pathway to commercialization, as you will end up needing to learn from experts in the business, legal, and industrial sectors. If your mentors are all from your academic life, you might consider branching out. Both Life Science Washington and UW CoMotion offer mentoring programs.
Time management and planning. Starting a business will feel daunting, and you will find yourself juggling among many unfamiliar responsibilities. Time management and planning are critical to making sure you are on track. There are time-sensitive steps (e.g., finding co-founders) that you need to accomplish as early as possible. You will likely need to acquaint yourself with new knowledge outside of your specific area of expertise, and you’ll need to build a collaborative team to accomplish your goals. These all demand your time and effort, which will feel increasingly constrained as you move your product and ideas from the bench to business. Check out tips on time management for start-up founders.
Last but not least, engaging in the entrepreneurial process has many benefits to your career development. For example, you will learn how to do translational research, tell a story about your research, and communicate to a diverse audience. You will also have the opportunity to expand your network as you explore the potential market impact of your research. It’s an exciting opportunity to fully apply all of the skills you developed during your graduate and postdoctoral research.