Earlier this year, the Larta Institute held Industry Feedback Sessions in multiple U.S. cities for their NIH & TATRC-funded companies. I attended the sessions in Washington, DC and Boston. As a Principal Advisor at Larta for the last few years, my role has been to advise technology companies in these categories: health-IT, diagnostic devices, disease monitoring, robotics, advanced manufacturing, and software. These companies are funded by government agencies to further develop their research and bring their innovations to market.
NIH and TATRC-funded companies receive commercialization support for about a year and can attend the Feedback Sessions. These roundtable sessions are designed to provide relevant input to guide the company’s approach to regulatory challenges, technical milestones, proof-of-concept ideas, and customer base expansion.
Why are these sessions helpful? What if the companies already have an advisory board or local network to provide feedback?
Well, the answer depends on the intended reach of the company. Will it have regional, national, or global impact? Finding global partners may be a vital objective for these science/tech-based entrepreneurs. These sessions provide that opportunity. (Refer to Larta White Paper – Taking Triple Helix to a New Level).
Also, the professionals in attendance provide a reality check for the companies’ technology and business model. And these are not just random business people. Session participants include experts on policy, intellectual property, strategy, etc. Representatives from these groups or companies were present at the sessions I attended; AdvaMed, Proctor and Gamble, Philips Healthcare, GE Global Research, McKesson, Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly, SAIC, WilmerHale, FDA, US Army, NIH, World Bank, and independent industry consultants.
Compare this 15-25 member advisory panel approach to any regional “Venture Forum” pitch session with 4-5 panel members and an audience of 100-200 attendees. Forum feedback may be limited to 5-10 minutes of expert commentary with an expectation to receive response from their “deal on the table”. These companies want to get spotted for their next or first round of funding.
The Industry Feedback Session format allots two hours per company, with many sessions to attend for panel members over the span of the 1 or 2 day event. Members, part of the Larta Industry Advisory Board, can choose which sessions to attend or may be pre-assigned based on their areas of expertise. Based on the quality of these sessions, the company leaders who present are given “been there, done that” and “have you thought of this?” input. Comments and recommendations may include pilot studies, prototypes, investor referrals, or strategic partner introductions.
So, these companies can receive the attention and scrutiny of a company with an active and invested advisory board. Thus, the nickname, “2-hour Advisory Board.” It’s an extremely valuable feedback session providing assistance and insight to keep the company moving forward to commercialization and pathways to revenue. Plus, company leaders may consider panel members as candidates for their own advisory board or board of advisors further down the road.
One observation: the quality of the feedback exchange depended upon the person presenting for the company. If a junior person or a “consultant” was sent to this event then the conversation was not as interactive. Also, the commentary seemed to fall on deaf ears and then the quality of the ideas suffered from then on because the panel sensed that their ideas would not be acted upon or were not sufficiently valued. In contrast, when the company founder or senior project leader presented, there seemed to be a sense of equal business stature with members of the audience. The leader didn’t have anyone to check back with and could discuss the technology’s intricate details and company’s business model openly.
In the video below, you’ll see what 2012 Industry Feedback Session participants say about their experience.
Lastly, these sessions provide a sense of accountability for results. Companies with complex technologies can “go it alone” with their own local resources or networks, but their business model may not realize its fullest potential. Leaders promoting their innovations, originating from entrepreneurial efforts and assisted by federal dollars, would do well to consider maximizing their company’s potential through Larta’s Industry Feedback Sessions. The results are worth consideration.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________The Value of the Industry Feedback Sessions:
– developing a comprehensive, constantly refined commercialization roadmap
– developing a real world competitive matrix, informed by shifting market intelligence, derived from expert mentors with knowledge of those markets
– seeking feedback from potential customers and partners, without placing a “deal” on the table
– identifying and communicating with other entrepreneurial firms that may have components that can provide incremental value to their own offering