Establishing a Start-up as a Researcher
Working as a researcher is exciting, and seeing your research being used by the wider public and being made a reality is a dream that many researchers seek to realise. To do this in the most impactful, efficient way, many researchers work towards commercial avenues to realise the potential of their technology. Here, we discuss ways to begin – and some things to consider on – your start-up journey.
Consider the spin-out model
The predominant way to start up a company that is based on your academic research is by ‘spinning out’, which is a fancy term for a company that arises from a university. The reason this mechanism exists is because the intellectual property that you create during your time at the university usually tends to be owned by them (although you’ll need to confirm this for your individual case). This is not a bad thing, as the university will have ways to support your success and guide you along the way to creating value from your research.
- The first step would be to contact your commercialisation team, often referred to as the technology transfer office (TTO).
- Make sure you involve your principal investigator, as they’ll be the person who will have originated the work.
If interested, learn about an example of a spin-out lab here.
Understand the needs of the market
A common phenomenon in university spin-outs is the concept of ‘technology push vs. market pull’. That is to say, scientists who are really excited about their work feel that, of course, everyone else will want it.
However, the first step to a successful business is to understand whether there is a genuine need for your innovation in the market. To do this, you’ll need to do the following:
- Identify your target market.
- Understand whether it wants what you have to offer and where you will be adding value.
- Do the above before you spin out, to make sure that your business even has a chance of being viable.
- Be open to pivoting your focus and having another aspect of your work as the core to your business.
Always remember your motivations for starting up
Be sure never to forget your motivations for starting a business – this will help you understand what your role in the business will be. Remember that the goal of the business is to bring your innovation to people.
- If your motivation for starting a business is to be a founder and you are mostly interested in running a business, then make sure you recruit people who can champion aspects of the business that are related more to developing the innovation and less to running the business.
- Conversely, if you are more interested in being a scientist but view a business as being the vehicle that will take your work to people, then you will need to recruit someone with a sufficient understanding of business and enterprise to progress the commercialisation.
It’s exciting to think of your work as being applied to the real world – and commercialisation is an exciting process. However, it’s important to do things correctly from the beginning. Elements such as working with the university’s guidelines and recruiting the right team to get things started are vital to your success.
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