Advice from 30 years of experience in STEM Research Valorisation

Richard Cahoon holds 30 years of experience in technology-based business development and innovation, strategic planning, and entrepreneurship; 20 of which were spent as the Director of Technology Transfer at Cornell University. Throughout his career, he has helped to create several dozen new technology companies and has been a board member of several companies and non-profit organizations. We had the opportunity of chatting with Richard as part of the expert interviews of the STEM Valorise project. He left us some learnings from his many years of experience that we will share below.

The steps of the Valorisation process

The step zero of the process of valorisation is to make researchers -the inventors- aware of the importance of it. This is crucial because while some researchers are indeed interested in the monetary returns they may get from their work, for some others money is not a motivator, rather, they are interested in doing it for contributing to knowledge and science. Thus, a balanced scenario should be set where all researchers understand the potential that valorisation brings to their projects. Richard explains that his way of doing this is always asking his researchers: “Would you like your tech to be developed and made available to solve global challenges?”. Based on his experience, 100% of researchers will say yes and agree to that.

After that ground step, the step one of the process of valorisation is understanding if the product is unique and brings in a differential advantage. Researchers need to understand the value proposition, and if the project has economic drivers and market relevance. Once the value proposition is understood, it is time to start looking at the whole business/commercialisation aspect: to know if the tech/invention can be scaled up, to acknowledge the hurdles, its applications, to understand how much the ROI will be, etc. It is also important to look a bit further: what is the current state of the technology the project is applying and what is the potential it has in the future.

Then, the next step is finding partnerships and potential collaborators, entities that would have an interest in the success of this technology and support its development. After one has found these partners, it is necessary to do all the creative business development related agreements and sign the deals. This scouting for business partners needs to happen proactively and in an attractive way for the receptors: with an attractive pitch and a summarized and eye-catching presentation. Extensive theoretical and methodological papers are not helpful in this case, and this is one of the weakest points of valorising academic research that can be highly improved by training researchers in interdisciplinary business skills.

The importance of Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurial competences

Richard highlights the importance of start-ups, entrepreneurship, and intrapreneurship as opportunities to exploit for enhancing STEM valorisation. He sustains that there is a role for technology transfer to play in social entrepreneurship and that there has been a significant growth in the profession. For this reason, a greater education offer in the subject is needed, which will have an impact on societies. Especially from the side of young people who are looking into building a future in a creative and dynamic economy.

To close his reflections, Richard gives one final advice for STEM researchers: “work on your personal branding, promote yourself, and write as much as you can about your work and accomplishments”.

Authored by Viviana Rojas, UIIN

Featured image from ThisIsEngineering on Pexels.

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