Yes, I’m Talking to You (about Symbiotic Innovation)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It doesn’t matter if you’re a company, a university, or a government lab. If you’re investing in technology development, Symbiotic Innovation is the best way to do it.

In my last two posts, I talked about how spin-out efforts can inform spin-in and vice versa. Yet I know from experience that many R&D organizations don’t think that they need to work both angles. This most frequently occurs among commercial companies and universities. But consider this…

Industry: Plenty of companies have licensing offices and enjoy the royalty revenue such programs generate from the sunk cost of their development and patents. Yet these same companies often tap into external technology only through mergers and acquisitions (M&A). They believe that collaborations are too risky. But in fact, R&D collaborations are less risky—not to mention significantly less costly—than M&A. This is not to say that M&A is always wrong; but sometimes companies are doing it when they don’t have to. In these cases, companies could increase the benefits of their spin-out programs by incorporating spin-in activities in a proactive, concerted manner. And because they are so experienced with spin-out, their spin-in efforts have a head start. I’ll talk more about the risks of not collaborating in my next post.

Academia: Like the corporate sector, universities often have technology management offices to spin-out professors’ innovations. But sometimes those innovations are not ready for prime time. And many times the institution lacks the equipment, technologies, funding, or expertise to take it to the next level and secure the interest of an established company. Sure, start-ups are an option, but partnerships for collaborative R&D are another way to achieve your goal. Plus partners can complement your strengths, making you a team that is more competitive when trying to secure research funding. Adding spin-in to your activities not only lets you find what you need but also lets you do spin-out better.

Government: Actually, much of the federal government has already figured all of this out. For example, several years ago the technology transfer program at NASA began emphasizing spin-in as well as spin-out. (I remember it clearly!) Many of the spin-in efforts are partnership-based, with Space Act Agreements (like CRADAs) creating collaborations to address a sub-set of mission needs. Partnership-based spin-in at NASA is not expected to solve all mission requirements—traditional internal R&D and procurements still are needed. Rather, NASA seeks spin-in partnerships for the needs where (1) others have complementary capabilities and (2) where collaboration is mutually beneficial.

Mutually beneficial. That’s the key phrase, isn’t it? It’s all about matching your technologies to someone else’s needs and vice versa. The organization that needs the techs you have to offer may very well have techs that could address your needs. That’s because, despite working in different industries, you’re both working in the same technical space. Whether it’s a valve problem on a rocket or a valve problem in an artificial heart, the solution could be applicable to both.

The question is: Who solved the problem first? If it’s you, then you’ve got a spin-out opportunity on your hands. If it’s someone else, then it’s time to consider spinning in that technology. And if neither of you has solved the problem, then you may want to work together on collaborative R&D. As Forest Gump was fond of saying: You never know what you’re gonna get.

This is why it’s best for any R&D organization—corporate, academic, or government—to do both spin-in and spin-out through Symbiotic Innovation.

–By Laura A. Schoppe

Posted by Laura Schoppe

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