On March 12, Bardwell Salmon gave a broad overview of the key components of technology commercialization from his perspective as an investor and entrepreneur. Mr. Salmon is chairman of Technology Capital Network, a New England regional network for investors and entrepreneurs located at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and chairman of RealityWave, Inc., a small company focusing on three-dimensional internet technology.
According to Mr. Salmon, there are four key ingredients for success: people, technology, markets, and money. People need an environment that provides an incentive to succeed, coupled with some personal loss for failure, and the freedom to excel. To increase the chance of success, individuals require education in entrepreneurship and mentors. Finally, the small technology-oriented businesses need a source of talent for workers and advisors, and so locating close to a university can boost the probability of successful commercialization.
The second important factor is having a technology which people will demand. The innovation must be cutting-edge and difficult for others to duplicate. In order to protect the technology, there must be an adequate legal infrastructure, including a well-developed patent system.
The other two areas, markets and money, are the ones in which innovators often have the most trouble. Previously, markets were thought of in geographic terms, with local, national, and global markets representing a series of concentric circles. Now new technologies may have very small niche markets, and the customers may be scattered across the globe. For this reason, those interested in commercializing technology must think early about the complex issues of distribution and protection of intellectual property rights that accompany working in a global market.
Finally, start up companies need money. In the United States, there is a wide variety of sources for funds to commercialize technology, including risk capital and individuals, who are known as "angels." Venture capitalists are critical to many innovative companies but they are actually involved in a small number of cases, and one should not overemphasize their importance to technology commercialization. Many small firms obtain a large boost from alliances with larger corporations, which increasingly work as "hunters and gatherers" of new technology instead of owning and developing it themselves. Finally, beyond the existence of potential financing, governments must ensure that there are tax and other incentives for investors and entrepreneurs to risk their money in technology commercialization.