It’s Fashionable to Be Early, and Other Startup Lessons from the Innovation Showcase

2/7/11

The point at which an exciting research project is poised to become the next great product or service can be fraught with peril. So, what’s an innovator to do?

Make connections, seek advice, build a team of advisors and investors who can help navigate that rocky road and bridge the gap between research and results. As the valley of death has expanded in recent years, making the right connections has become even more critical to achieving the next milestone.

The Innovation Showcase, which is produced quarterly by the Technology Alliance, offers innovators the chance to expand their business network as they move forward on the path to commercialization. It started out as an experiment to see if we could help innovators make the transition from grant-funded research to company formation and investment. Based on the enthusiastic response to our pilot program a year and a half ago, we knew we must be onto something. For many innovators, this event is their first opportunity to pitch their ideas to those outside of the academy. For the experts in building and growing companies that attend the Showcase, it is a unique opportunity to witness some of the most interesting work being commercialized at our state’s research institutions.

Last Tuesday afternoon was no exception. An enthusiastic audience had the opportunity to learn about ground-breaking technology in the life sciences, clean tech, and wireless sensing fields. Presenting companies included:

EnVitrum: This company, based on technology developed by University of Washington graduate student Grant Marchelli, has a patent-pending technology that converts low-value, waste stream glass into a high-value material that has several applications in the green building industry.

Hive: UW professor Brian Otis has developed a wireless technology platform that increases the battery life of transceivers – with applications in medical devices, body-area networks for consumer sports and fitness, and the automotive and aviation industry.

Precision Genome Engineering: Dr. Andrew Scharenberg and his team are developing tools for making precise genome manipulations and custom organisms.

Shockmetrics: Critical care physician Kenneth Schenkman has develped a noninvasive monitor for the early detection of shock in patients.

SNUPI: UW computer science professor Shwetak Patel, who sold his water monitoring company, Zensi, to Belkin last year, is building a highly specific resource sensing system for homes and businesses. The system, which builds on colleague and fellow presenter Brian Otis’ “bumblebee” technology, has the potential to fundamentally transform how customers consume electricity, water, and natural gas.

Having worked with these and over two dozen other companies during the program’s two years of existence, we’ve noticed a few things about the very early stage opportunities emerging from Washington laboratories:

Be Early, and Be Interesting

We have found that our audience responds to a well-balanced slate of technologies from different industries. Audience members – even the ones with an investment focus – are focused on the technology first; stage of development is a secondary consideration. Interesting technology appears to trump … Next Page »

Susannah Malarkey is the Executive Director of the Technology Alliance, a statewide organization of leaders from technology businesses and research institutions dedicated to Washington's long-term economic success Follow @

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