Universities and Corporate Accelerators as Leverage to Launch B2B Startup in the USA

    Having tried myself as an entrepreneur in various fields - from logistics to the production of drinking water, I found my true vocation in engineering, taking on to help my friend mega-engineer turn his workshop into an engineering company. Everything was cool until the end of 2013, when gloomy times appeared on the horizon and I fell into anguish beforehand - until March 2014, when I read about emigration on Habré through receiving the American MBA.

    The United States became my first foreign country in 2000 after participating in the Work & Travel program and we arranged a wedding with my future wife for two in Las Vegas in 2008, so there was no choice.

    After a year and a half, in August 2015, I began my studies at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

    The outline of the article is as follows:

    1. Opportunities for startups at American universities

    a. Business Plan Competitions
    b. Investments from state funds

    2. Corporate competitions of projects and technologies

    3. Global industrial accelerators

    1. Opportunities for Startups at American Universities

    At fact-finding meetings, we were told a lot about the deep integration of the university with global technology corporations, but all this was in the context of a job search. And when we were told at an entrepreneurial session which technologies left the university and which were on the way, then it became really interesting. The most breakthrough technology was the diodes invented at UHF University, capable of operating at frequencies up to hundreds of THz and up to 30 GHz in zero-bias mode, promising revolutionary prospects in electronics.

    I unsuccessfully tried to contact the professor-inventor for 7 months, but it only happened in the summer of 2016, when instead of a generously paid summer internship in Google, I signed up for almost free volunteering at the University Technology Transfer Office - on the condition that they put me on this project.

    Summer has flown by in the study of potential applications of the technology, the size of the markets and the way to enter them: from radio signal detectors and radio telescopes to converting radio waves into electricity. By the fall, it became clear that our main goal was to offer the market eternal batteries that draw on the energy of background radio emission.

    Active and even in certain areas - the leading role of universities in shaping the strategic agenda in business and public administration - is one of the main distinguishing features of American education. In addition to the fact that educational institutions are aimed at the issuance of ready-made specialists for work in specialized sectors, there is close feedback from enterprises that order and sponsor research with their subsequent implementation in production and business. So, one of my tasks, as an intern at the Technology Transfer Office, was to create a database of all past, current and future research work for operational interaction with potential customers and investors from the business.

    There are practical courses when a company orders market research or a very specific development, and a whole course of students, divided into groups, a whole semester works on a solution with a final presentation at the end. Breakthrough decisions can not always be expected from students, but from the whole stream there will usually be one or two teams that will give out something interesting.

    Startups at universities are usually born out of course projects.

    1.a. Business Plan Competitions

    So, a cool idea, possibly fueled by university technology, peppy guys with burning eyes - then the University Entrepreneurship Center enters (in my opinion, they are now at every university, since one of the criteria in university ratings (a very important thing in the states) is the number of companies created by graduates).

    You can continue to work on a startup as part of an entrepreneurship course, or with the support of a business department to prepare for local / regional / national business plan competitions (Pitch Competitions) - there would be a desire. Again, the involvement of business in university life leads to investors and industry representatives showing interest in these competitions - sponsoring and carefully studying, so participation can provide an opportunity not only to raise money, but also gain access to important partnerships.

    My experience was marked by two second places in university and regionalcompetitions that allowed to establish personal contact with Walmart vice president of technology and energy, director of innovation at Phillips dozens of other reputable and useful people for business development, well, and $ 50 thousand in prize money. Taking the top prize in my category at the California Institute of Technology , I made contact with the Director of Innovation at EPRI (Research Institute for Electric Energy) - a reputable organization that determines the development of the entire electric power industry. In general, university competitions in the USA are a real springboard to big business.

    It is important to note that startups born from technology developed at the university and at the expense of the university, when created, usually give the university a share in the authorized capital and additionally pay royalties for using the technology. Usually there is some standard practice common to the university. At Carnegie Mellon, this is 7% of the registered capital and 2-3% of the income.

    Intellectual Property Rights are closely monitored by the Technology Transfer Office and the echoes of high-profile litigation on this score are heard from time to time ( world $ 750 million from Marvell Technology ).

    1.b. Investments from state funds

    Competitions at the California Institute of Technology and Pennsylvania's Allegheny Cleantech were regional qualifying rounds for the DOE national competition , so I had a chance to speak in Washington.

    Research grants from line ministries are an important source of funding for university research. The state body determines the strategically important topics that are published on the website of the relevant ministries. Universities (and private companies) submit applications that are blindly selected by a panel of industry experts from the academy and industry. Winners usually receive grants in 2-3 parts, as they reach the previously agreed goals: $ 150-250 thousand; $ 1-2 million; $ 3-5 million - depending on the nature of the project, but in sufficient volume to produce a demonstration sample and reduce risks for commercial investments.

    Using the grant, the sponsored company usually reserves the ownership of the development, but transfers a non-exclusive license to use it to the Sponsor. Further, managing the created intellectual property, the developer can either sell commercial licenses or implement his own product.

    Granting is one of the main tasks of university professors. If your research meets the national interests of the United States (or can be filed, as such) - there is a great chance to get a lot of free money on this business. One problem is time. A year can easily pass from writing to receiving money, so it’s good to have a fallback.

    Where to go:

    - A wide range of topics, focus on fundamental discoveries. The program managers indicated by the selection managers usually carry out administrative functions, the decision is made by a committee of experts who do not know each other and do not see the authors of the requests in order to ensure the objectivity of the evaluation.

    - obviously - everything related to energy. At the same time, topics can be related to energy quite indirectly - the experience of ear-pulling is useful here - for example, to tie up a greenhouse project using hydroponic technology as a means of saving fresh water, which in turn saves energy. Well, you understand ...

    o ARPA-E
    o National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

    - Ministry of Defence. Here, the final decision is made by the program manager, therefore, establishing and maintaining fruitful cooperation is important at an early stage. There is a nuance - the export of military or dual-use development (when they can theoretically be used for military purposes) developed under the grant will be either completely closed or very limited.

    o DARPA

    • There are other ministries, full access to grants here - Grants.gov

    Our application to the NSF was rejected six months later due to the "lack of ambitiousness" of the stated goals. We could, of course, compete for the next year, but for lack of time we went the other way:

    2. Corporate competitions of projects and technologies

    American companies take universities seriously as a source of inspiration and innovative thought. In addition, after clicking on the nose of startups that turned upside-down industries and having read Cristensen's “Innovator Dilemmas”, global corporations began to get younger and create corporate accelerators with the intention of “disrupt ourselves” (to break ourselves (?)).

    Despite the apparent contradiction in the mission, such an outsourcing of innovation allows us to acquire rising stars in the form of successful products, technologies and teams. And for start-up teams, this can mean a lot of free (maybe) money, access to a ready-made large market, or an instant build up of reputation in the industry.

    A prerequisite for participation in many such contests is a connection with an American university, so startups actively use their university roots to either draw the necessary connection or to take a graduate student into the team, which becomes a pass to the world of opportunities.

    If in a venture environment professors among founders and advisers are looked upon with some distrust (“learning” and “inventing” is rarely combined with “creating a product” and “selling”), then in corporate accelerators, where PhD experts and scientific experts act as experts and judges consultants (well, of course, the best forces are rushing for innovation) - the university aura adds points.

    I went into everything related to electrical engineering:

    Global Problem Solver Challenge

    Bell Labs Prize

    Energy Research Network (BERN)

    Shell Game Changer

    Filling out each application makes us look at the market’s needs from a new angle, understand which product needs to be developed so that the consumer wants to pay for it even before it is born. If at first I tried to sell Cisco technology that “will revolutionize the electronics industry”, I ended up solving Shell's specific problems and calculating the savings on the maintenance of wireless corrosion sensors manufactured in partnership with the leading manufacturer of anti-corrosion equipment from the UK.
    The specifics and focus on today's problems of the partner worked better than castles in the air.

    3. Global industrial accelerators

    The possibilities do not end there. Led by good intentions and PR considerations, global corporations come together to solve strategic problems of energy security on a planetary scale and create international funds and accelerators investing in ambitious projects that directly or indirectly solve energy and environmental problems.

    Many of these programs provide grants of $ 1 million to selected companies, access to the best experts and business favors up to the state level. In general - solid pluses.

    Here are the ones I interacted with and can recommend:

    By registering on the sites of these organizations, you will receive regular notifications of upcoming opportunities, selections, landmark events and investments. If your project at least partially falls into the mainstream due to its global nature and potential positive effect - something suitable will appear sooner or later.

    I hope someone will help my story to launch your project or inspire you to create technology that will save the world. Of course, I won’t put all the nuances in the article - so write - I will advise how I can.

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