As I write the post, I’m about half-way between Washington, D.C. and Dallas on our flight back to Tucson, AZ. It has definitely been a fantastic and insightful trip but will be nice getting home and getting back to work. We’re done with our NSF Phase I grant conference which included about 180 companies comprised of approximately 300 attendees spread from across the United States.
In my last post I discussed our experience conducting customer interviews for the Beat the Odds Bootcamp. On day 1, all the companies in our cohort under the same Program Director presented our findings. It was a long day, but it was extremely interesting to hear about the different technologies. The most fascinating thing for me was seeing the different mind-sets amongst the individuals. A large majority of the grantees were from academia, and with that background comes a passion for science. It’s my opinion however that this group of people often has a difficult time switching into a business mind-set. While developing and proving the technology is critical, these efforts become a complete waste if it cannot be translated into a viable product that actually benefits society.
Day 2 of the conference was comprised mostly of speaker series with a focus on divulging information on how to succeed in moving forward with your technology and commercialization efforts, and successfully acquire a Phase II award. We had a lot of “ah-ha!” moments and gained a lot of insight into what the NSF looks for and how to navigate this process. While we definitely want to acquire a Phase II grant through the NSF (and feel confident in our team’s ability to accomplish this), ultimately the big-picture goal is to make the company a success.
Participating in this conference also made us more thankful for where we are. During the morning session, the key-note speaker had everyone raise their hands to identify which one of three groups their company came from. The first group was technology spin-outs from universities. I’m guessing this was 80-90% of the room. The second group was established companies with revenue that were developing a new technology. This group was probably 5-10% of the room. We were last in the third group – technology startups with no university connection and no revenue. I think less than a dozen hands when up when this was called out.
It was fascinating being in this room. Almost everyone in the room had a master’s degree or PhD in their field, and they all struck me as truly brilliant. I feel fortunate that Emil and I were able to make it into the same room as this group of amazing people. While our company didn’t start with the same level of “brilliance” as some of these other technologies, we were able to quickly build a team which has catapulted our development and speed-to-market.
Next thing to do? – Wrap up our Phase I Grant and start drafting the Phase II Proposal!