Commercialise with Confidence

At a recent seminar in Helsinki I was asked a searching question by Heikki Vuorikoski the VP Business Development of Montisera. He asked why are we still talking about the potential of Bioinformatics in Finland after 20 years? A great question which has provided me food for thought.

I answered at the time that it was to do with failure to commercialise properly. That it wasn't to do with the correct skills in the Finnish population (they have some of the best academic qualifications in Bioinformatics and some of the leading research teams) and it wasn't to do with a lack of quality of the ideas – but a lack of exploitation.

I stand by my initial response and would like to expand on it.

Commercialisation is a skill that scientists are rarely exposed to, it is rarely taught in Science faculties. Some people wander into the business aspects of scientific endeavour though accidental exposure via business skills courses and business games events and some because they are aware of their suitability for such a career. However many scientists leave their education unaware that sales and marketing are possible careers and that pursuit of wealth is possible whilst retaining scientific integrity and take the natural career progression into the world of academic research or into teaching.

As a result when the opportunity to pursue a commercial opportunity comes along they are often unskilled in maximising the potential both in terms of financial gain but also dispersal of the technology to global market base that it could benefit.

The commercial world is proactive not reactive. It requires scientists to use different language to communicate in a different way to see their inventions from a different prospective. These are new skills which are mainly taught through Business School language of marketeers and totally inaccessible to the average scientist recently made CEO who needs a practical guide to “how do I make this work”.

There are also cultural issues. Scientists have their own combination of arrogance and shyness. They can be used to working in a single location surrounded by the same team for lengthy periods of time in their own language – linguistically and scientifically. They don't find it easy to change to having to cold call potential perspective customers and speak to them about the benefits of their technology in a language that feels and sounds unfamiliar. After all if the customers wanted this, they would look it up on the patents database or through citations? Surely they know who I am?

There are times when good salespeople are brought in to bridge the gap but this may not be the perfect solution if that sales person doesn't have deep enough an interest or understanding in the technology to be able to explain it with credibility to the equally intelligent and expert customers.

Another hurdle can be the lack of comfort with collaborations or partnerships to perfect a product or service. The wisdom of combination can be overshadowed by the fear of losing control by sharing equity. Global dominant products come from ensuring that all parts are of the same global excellence standard and the reward pie can be much bigger as a result and the collaboration experience can provide a cross-pollination of skills that benefits all parties.

I think that commercialisation of Bioinformatics in Finland (and other places) could benefit from more ambition to create global awareness of the IP and a greater confidence and ambition in the leading scientists brave enough to make the move into the commercial world.

CEOs set the Tone

Ethos and attitude are of great importance in business.

Having a good logo, clear website, accurate up-to-date appropriate marketing materials all create an image that the company wishes to project, but the drive to do so and in what manner, comes from the CEO.

The CEO will set the tone for the whole business. The senior managers will disperse this downwards and outwards on behalf of the whole organisation, (if your organisation is large enough to have this layer of staff).

CEO's come from various backgrounds, brought into companies at various stages to enable the exploitation of their skills and their networks. Young companies often bring in CEO's with connections in the investment world with experience of raising capital in similar technology areas. Home grown companies can get stuck with the CEO who invented the company who often has a focus on the science/IP that created the embryonic enterprise, sometime to their benefit – Steve Jobs for example.

But what about the bigger picture : For a small company would it not be better to bring in a “jack of all trades” who has the skill set for developing relationships where needed, but who revels in the multi-tasking required to get the company moving and understands that emails need to be responded to, that the credibility and scientific/technological standing of the company can make the fund raising easier?

Is it better to bring in someone with greater experience at a higher cost, potentially from outside of your geographic area that you don't have the same knowledge or comfort with or take someone that is locally based that you've got to know who has adequate connections, adequate potential to access the early-stage funding that you need?

These are not questions I have the answers to – they form part of the conundrum that I work repeatedly inside my head.

….but I do know that companies that do not develop their marketing strategy and build brand/product credibility will only succeed through luck not by good guidance...and there is little enough luck around in the current economic climate.

Actions not words

When I started this blog I was promising myself I would write something once a week. Not too onerous I thought as I often have ideas for blog items rattling around my head when I am doing other things. But I am failing.

As with many small businesses it is hard to divide the key people amoungst the key tasks. A lot of the administration of the website, the development of the corporate brand for SSC falls into my area of responsibility and I can find it challenging to keep up with. However it is all important and it is all relevant and I'm still at the stage where I find it all enjoyable.

The blog is something that I am using as a learning tool. As we expand I want to see how social media tools can be used practically for small businesses, and particularly for companies which have a complex technical background to their products and services. I am not an expert in the technical side of this so each time I write something I am also learning more about using Joomla (our chosen system) and RSS feeds etc. Hopefully when I look back I will be able to see improvements in the use of metatags as well as the quality of the content. When I had to add it all as code directly into HTML it seemed more straightforward!

I need to also focus myself on the advice that I provide to others. Do something, move forwards, get a goal, create a strategy, develop an action plan and make it happen -- and then review at significant points to learn from the positive and negative outcomes.

So far this year we have several positives - repeat business secured, new associates to be announced shortly, new clients in the pipeline and a new website to assist the building of the SSC brand. The negatives are not huge and mainly centre on not getting things done on the Admin side as fast or as efficiently as we would like. Goal set, strategy and action plan to follow.

I'll keep you posted.