INNOVATION

Is Your Idea Commercialisation Ready?

Part of the prob­lem is Australian en­tre­pre­neurs aren’t in­ter­nal­is­ing some im­por­tant con­cepts re­gard­ing in­no­va­tion as oth­ers are. As a re­sult, less in­ven­tive coun­tries with worse uni­ver­si­ties and poorer grad­u­ates are beat­ing us at the startup game!

UQ lec­turer Tim Kastelle says our prob­lem is much like the one ex­pe­ri­enced by Mousetrapia: we are build­ing bet­ter mouse­traps; or, so­lu­tions to prob­lems that don’t ex­ist.

Mousetrapia: Solving Problems That Don’t Exist

19th Century es­say­ist Ralph Emerson is cred­ited with say­ing build a bet­ter mouse­trap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” Well, there are more than 4000 reg­is­tered mouse­trap patents and hun­dreds more are sub­mit­ted each year, and yet you prob­a­bly only know of one. The same one as every­one else; the only one that was com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion ready.

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Make sure your app is­n’t an­other mouse­trap us­ing our EXCLUSIVE Software Readiness grader

Some prob­lems have sim­ple so­lu­tions. Have a prob­lem with mice? Buy a mouse­trap (or get a cat). Simple prob­lem, sim­ple so­lu­tion.

Yes, a mouse­trap with IoT ca­pa­bil­i­ties is a cool idea, I’d prob­a­bly share it on so­cial me­dia too, but it’s an un­nec­es­sar­ily com­plex so­lu­tion to a sim­ple prob­lem that was solved over a 100 years ago. Ergo: it’s not com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion ready.

There is­n’t much point in be­ing a leader on the mouse­trap prob­lem in peer-re­viewed pa­pers, patent ap­pli­ca­tions, and R&D, as Mousetrapia is. Take one look at the NASDAQ and you will see there are over 600 bil­lion rea­sons to be the lead­ing in­ter­net search en­gine.

The so­lu­tion to Australia’s startup prob­lem is­n’t more peer-re­viewed pa­pers, patents and re­search & de­vel­op­ment (although those cer­tainly would­n’t hurt). It be­gins with Australians recog­nis­ing that build­ing bet­ter mouse­traps is­n’t the path to riches. Solving real prob­lems with so­lu­tions that are as sim­ple as pos­si­ble, but no sim­pler, is the so­lu­tion.

So how do we do that? It starts with un­der­stand­ing the two com­mon com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion readi­ness met­rics: Technology Readiness Level (TRL) and Investment Readiness Level (IRL), and then com­bin­ing them!

Technology Readiness Level

As NASA grew in size and rep­u­ta­tion, its net­work of sup­pli­ers and col­lab­o­ra­tors started be­com­ing un­man­age­able. Their so­lu­tion was Technology Readiness Level.

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When ap­proached with a tech­nol­ogy by a new sup­plier or re­turn­ing col­lab­o­ra­tor, NASA would in­voke TRL to grade it. The pur­pose was to de­ter­mine whether or not NASA should in­vest in the tech­nol­ogy, and, when not, to re­veal how the would-be sup­plier or col­lab­o­ra­tor could make the tech­nol­ogy NASA-ready.

The lack of a TRL num­ber (TRL 0) meant an idea was com­pletely un­val­i­dated, and each pro­gres­sive level of readi­ness de­noted a cer­tain de­gree of val­i­da­tion. For ex­am­ple, TRL 1 in­di­cated that the ba­sic prin­ci­ples that un­der­lie the tech­nol­ogy had been ob­served and re­ported and TRL 4 in­di­cated that tech­nol­ogy had been proven in a lab.

The prin­ci­ples of TRL are used by other gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, as well as sup­pli­ers and col­lab­o­ra­tors world­wide. This last part is im­por­tant. Rather than build­ing the equiv­a­lent of bet­ter mouse­traps (solutions NASA and other po­ten­tial part­ners don’t want), smart sup­pli­ers and col­lab­o­ra­tors use TRL as a guide when de­vel­op­ing new prod­ucts and ser­vices.

TRL is com­mon among in­no­v­a­tive or­gan­i­sa­tions, and can be read­ily adapted to an or­gan­i­sa­tion’s par­tic­u­lar needs. Steve Blank has re­worked TRL into what he calls Investment Readiness Level. Where TRL is best ap­plied to phys­i­cal prod­ucts, IRL can be read­ily ap­plied to dig­i­tal prod­ucts and ser­vices.

Investment Readiness Level

While TRL was tai­lored to NASAs needs, IRL is more gen­eral and can be ap­plied to B2C star­tups, in­clud­ing those with­out a tech­nol­ogy prod­uct, as well as other or­gan­i­sa­tions.

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Broadly speak­ing, TRL and IRL cover much of the same ground, but there are some im­por­tant di­ver­gences. For ex­am­ple, TRL is very yes/​no. TRL 4 is es­sen­tially ask­ing whether it works in a lab. On the other hand, IRL is rid­dled with sub­jec­tiv­ity. For ex­am­ple, mar­ket size/​com­pet­i­tive analy­sis and sev­eral lev­els of val­i­da­tion through user in­ter­views and tests.

A key com­po­nent of IRL that is ab­sent in TRL is IRL 3: prob­lem/​so­lu­tion val­i­da­tion. To be at IRL 3 it’s ex­pected that you have com­pleted at least 60-100 in­ter­views in which you have in­val­i­dated at least one po­ten­tial mar­ket, dis­cov­ered a prob­lem, and val­i­dated your so­lu­tion.

The rea­son that this step (which can ap­pear com­pre­hen­sive) ap­pears so early in IRL is be­cause the pri­mary con­cern of IRL is need. Is the prod­uct/​ser­vice needed? It’s bet­ter to dis­cover that it’s not needed rather than re­leas­ing a so­lu­tion to a prob­lem that does­n’t ex­ist.

TRL does­n’t stop you from build­ing bet­ter mouse­traps, IRL does. So which should you ap­ply to your busi­ness? Which met­rics mat­ter?

Metrics That Matter

It’s im­por­tant that Australian en­tre­pre­neurs recog­nise that the so­lu­tion to our com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion prob­lem is­n’t more peer-re­viewed pa­pers, patents and re­search & de­vel­op­ment (R&D), it’s recog­nis­ing that build­ing bet­ter mouse­traps is­n’t the path to riches. As Tim Kastelle says, we are build­ing so­lu­tions to prob­lems that don’t ex­ist.

To be com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion ready, ideas need to solve real prob­lems with so­lu­tions that are as sim­ple as pos­si­ble, but no sim­pler.

The best way to start be­ing more readi­ness con­scious is to un­der­stand TRL and IRL and ap­ply them to your busi­ness and it’s prod­ucts/​ser­vices. Both of them.

TRL helps you dis­cover if your idea solves a tech­ni­cal prob­lem and IRL helps you dis­cover if your idea ad­dresses a real need. Your idea is worth­less with­out both.

All great new prod­ucts and ser­vices be­gin as ideas, by un­der­stand­ing TRL & IRL and ap­ply­ing these in uni­son. You can bet­ter un­der­stand when your idea is com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion ready. Do this and the world will beat a path to your door.

Not an­other mouse­trap. See how the Codebots dream was ig­nited with a $250,000 grant from Advance Queensland!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Burkett

Growth en­thu­si­ast and res­i­dent pom

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