Striking Similarities: Tech Commercialization and Parenting

Akin to raising a child, building a business around a commercializable technology from birth is a long, stressful, although mostly exhilarating process. The day your business is born may be one of your most memorable experiences. The horizon appears limitless and your dreams abound. However, challenges arise. The first ear infection, the crying, and sleepless nights. The first money into the business, often SBIR and STTR Phase I, acts to soothe the business and get it on track to direct the technology to the point where it can start to crawl and then walk. Often the first submission of a Phase I proposal does not lead to funding.  The crying nights continue, until after two or three resubmissions, the project is finally funded.

The results of the Phase I research prove that your baby, once just a glimmer in your eye, has great potential. The next major challenge becomes potty training. You try over and over and over. Sometimes it works and sometimes not, until one day the diapers are just a memory. Developing a Phase II proposal, which includes a detailed commercialization plan, is a similarly cumbersome and time consuming task. A commercialization plan requires countless hours of interviewing potential customers, follow-on investors, and researching competitors. Most people you reach out to do not respond and you begin to think that raising a technology is more than you bargained for. But, perseverance and patience reign. You stick with it and, after several months, you have the information you need to wrap a compelling business case around your technology.

The first day of kindergarten arrives and you wonder where all the time has gone.  Your child is now in a diverse environment where he/she can blossom and thrive.  As your Phase II SBIR/STTR is funded and work commences, over the next two years, your technology blooms. Your research is, for the most part, complete and development ensues. The technology is field tested, re-worked, and field tested again. There are numerous bumps in the road. You receive a letter from your son’s grade school teacher explaining that he is not turning in his homework and is receiving a D in math. You are perplexed and wonder what is going on. You work out the complex technical kinks in the technology, over many sleepless nights, and the finally the Phase II work is complete. Your team is extremely proud that the solution you had originally hoped to create in your technology is now a reality. It seems like the most difficult part is behind you now.

High school starts and an entirely different set of challenges arrive. Dealing with a more diverse set of people, some of which are very poor influences, is a concern. You trust that your child is strong-willed and is able to overcome the obstacles in this new environment. Your line of communication is always open with him/her. The process of acquiring your first customer denotes that commercialization has now commenced. You’ve never done this before, and you are learning on the fly. Surrounding yourself with strong influences, including a board of advisors and legal and accounting support, goes a long way in helping to walk you through the process of marketing, selling, manufacturing, and distribution. Mentorship is the key to becoming a grown-up.

College comes, much sooner than expected, and the tuition bill has a bullseye on your bank account. You need a source of funding to get your child into the big leagues. You sell some investments to get the tuition paid. Your child, after 18 wonderful years has now moved out of the house. It is sad, but so exciting at the same time. Getting to the big leagues in business, often means that you that you will have to hand off many of the business development and investment tasks to someone with more experience than you bring to bear. You have difficulty letting go but know that doing so will allow your technology and business to reach its full potential. You hire a CEO with experience in your industry who takes the lead on many of the operational tasks and successfully attracts significant outside funding. You remain an integral part of the business, but your day-to-day tasks have changed significantly.

Your child graduates from college, a strong mentoring relationship has been built between you and him/her over the last four years. Your conversations have become so much different, in a good way, than they ever were. Career paths, relationships, and politics. All of the things that you went through as a young adult, your child is experiencing now and you are guiding him/her through these life-changing times.

There comes the day that your business has attracted the attention of a suitor.  A larger company that would like to acquire your business. The news is bitter sweet. The potential financial reward and the opportunity for your technology to gain a worldwide reach are coupled with the melancholy that comes with seeing your baby all grown up and riding off into the sunset. It has been a long road. Was it all worth it? Indeed it was. You started from scratch, you rode the highs and the lows and, at the end of the day, your contribution to society, and possibly the world, is appreciated by many, but no one more than your self.