I started doing the Headspace meditation app last fall. One recent practice struck me as I was thinking about the journeys entrepreneurs take to start up a company – making some space between yourself and your thoughts and emotions. This mental distance has its place in other spheres as well. For instance, by stepping back from your technology and looking at it with perspective, this wider view can help develop a strategy.
The stepping back perspective, as I will refer to it here, is seeing your technology beyond the science and the nifty innovation, and placing it in the context of the real world. It’s a framing exercise:
- What is the problem you are addressing?
- Where does this problem exist? How big is the problem?
- How does your technology provide a solution?
- Does it solve all of the existing hurdles or just part of the problem? Can it and does it work in conjunction with other technologies to cover the full range of obstacles?
This perspective can be applied with slight variations to a number of purposes. Take for example, getting non-dilutive funding for early stage work. Last week, I attended at talk on successful tips for writing SBIR grant applications. The presentation was given by David Spellmeyer at the UC Davis Entrepreneurship program. One of the keys to a winning SBIR grant application is describing how the startup team will take the scientific idea to market. As explained in the presentation, it is crucial to understand the landscape and where your technology fits. Viewing the landscape requires stepping back from your technology and seeing it from a higher plane.
Perspective with distance also helps in developing an intellectual property (IP) strategy. By stepping back, you can formulate a view of your technology and the company in the context of the competition. First step is to identify the competition. The most obvious competitors are others that are developing similar or related technologies. But, step back and look at the problem you are addressing. Are there other products and services that provide solutions in a different manner? These too can be competition in the overall market.
Once the larger picture, is broadly mapped out, then you can walk inwards towards your technology:
- How does your technology differ from other solutions that exist in the market?
- Is it a new technical approach?
- Is it a related technical approach but improved or modified in some significant way?
For IP, particularly patents and trade secrets protecting technology, it then becomes important to understand the features that make your technology different from what is publicly known. Many scientific discoveries and improvements haven’t yet made it into commercial products (and many never make to the commercial stage). But these other sources such as research literature, published patent applications, and internet postings impact your ability to gain IP protection and thus your overall IP strategy.
- How does your technology differ from other possible solutions?
- How do these differences impact the solution?
- Does your technology make the solution simpler, better, faster, more accurate, more granular?
Gaining this perspectives, standing at a distance from your technology, will also serve you well with investors. You can explain how your technology fits into the problem-solution equation and its advantages over other possible paths. You will have in hand pictures of your competitive landscape – a high level view as well as a close up. You can use these different views to show the map of your business strategy as well as your IP strategy, and most importantly – how they sync together.