The Collider’s Program co-director, Albert C. Mikkelsen, elaborates on the conclusions of the panel he moderated at The Collider’s first edition Demo Day, “Tech Transfer Incubation: From Dream to Reality”. Enjoy the read:
Demo Day: the day everyone desires and yet everyone fears. It is the day when the badge of startups in any incubation or acceleration program are unveiled to the world. It is the day when entrepreneurs usually start serious funding conversations and, do not forget, the day when the incubator makes or breakes its prestige. What will investors (the incubator’s and the startups’), press, competitors, stakeholders and public in general think of the businesses created? How will that affect the next badges?
Friday April 27th 2018 was The Collider’s first Demo Day. Although the whole team has participated in several incubation, intrapreneurship or acceleration program, this time it was different. The Collider, as some of you may already know, is not a usual incubation or acceleration program, but a tech transfer program, with all of the particularities this entails:
1- Teams were formed from scratch by putting together two widely different profiles, STEM PhDs with entrepreneurs, who literally met on the first day of the program (I know, risky).
2- Teams were, to a certain extent ‘’constrained’’ by the technologies they worked with – instead of starting with a problem to solve as would be ideal, they were seeking for a problem that their technology could solve, certainly not ideal path for design thinking or lean startup processes.
3- Equity needed to be allocated among the entrepreneurs, researcher, University and the research team behind the researcher (bravo for those who took on the task of negotiating a deal that made everyone happy and aligned their interests).
Obviously, with such hurdles, from day one we all had doubts: Would it really yield a good result? Would any teams really take off, at least beyond the five months of the program? Our belief in the science and technology latent in the local universities and research centres pushed us forward. The biggest question though was, as I already explained in a previous article, could this tech transfer incubation model be an answer to the end of the startup era?
In that article you can read why there is a risk of this ‘’end of the startup era’’ and why technology transfer could save us from it. I did not dare yet to give a definitive answer – only a few key learnings from running the program. Today, I may disappoint you and say that I still think we do not yet have the perspective to reach a final conclusion, but the result at the end of the program is, to say the least, hopeful.
Nine Teams – Deep Tech Transfer
Five Teams Alive
Three receiving funding (2 more TBC)
10+ pilots with real customers (all B2B)
Customers paying for pilots
Partners supporting regulatory process
Quickly flash back to our Demo Day. It is obvious that the program has succeeded greatly at generating startups with real market potential. It is obvious that our teams have overcome the hurdles unique to the program listed above. The Collider has successfully helped launch deep technology to the market through a tech transfer incubation program. The hurdles of creating teams from scratch, having them constrained by a technology and aligning all the stakeholders required changes to the classic methodologies used. Being methodology-obsessed would have killed the startups and us.
Nevertheless, as you may suspect if you know me personally, I would still rather stay cautious in saying that this model could be the protagonist for the next decade of startups. We still need some perspective: how will following iterations of the program impact the outcome? What will happen to these teams 6, 12, 18 months down the line? And five or ten years yonder? How will potential acquirers, institutional investors and other stakeholders behave to the unique idiosyncrasies of such initiatives? Can the program be recreated at scale internationally?
Answering such questions will likely take months if not years. But we have validated that through entrepreneurial acumen, methodologies, flexibility to adapt them to reality and an engaged team who truly believes and pushes for outcomes, we are capable of helping researchers and entrepreneurs turn science and technology into value-add market applications that customers are willing to try and pay for.
We will keep you posted as we continue to tinker with these elements to reach a perfect formula and see whether this model can be the one to create the startups of the next decade.