I am going to be a bit out-of-pocket this week and wanted to tell you what I am up to.
I am honored to be asked to participate in the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, being held at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, July 16-18 at the University of Michigan. I’m stepping in as an interim mentor/coach for an out of town startup team. I currently am mentoring a team from University of Michigan, as we prepare to qualify for entry into this prestigious program, next session, in October 2012.
The I-Corps program was created to “develop and nurture a national innovation ecosystem that builds upon fundamental research.” In other words, the I-Corps program focuses on eventual third-party commercialization of NSF-funded academic research projects, for the benefit of society. It gets the academic research community out of the lab and out of the building, speaking with real, live potential customers.
That’s something I wholeheartedly buy into.
The I-Corps program is taught by a talented group of individuals, including Steven Blank. It’s based on the methodology in his seminal book, Four Steps to the Epiphany. The I-Corps program is structured around, and also taught by, Alexander Osterwalder who, with Yves Pigneur, authored the Business Model Canvas , which is presented in full in their book, Business Model Generation.
These two books, and the I-Corps program in general, present business development and innovation in a way you’ve never thought of before. In fact, these Customer Discovery concepts put whatever you learned about sales, marketing, new product development, manufacturing, you name it, right on it’s ear.
And about time, too.
While the I-Corps program focuses on commercializing academic-based research projects, I’ve been injecting Mssrs. Blank and Osterwalder’s concepts not only into my work with entrepreneurs, but also my conversations with mature businesses as well. The Business Model Canvas and Four Steps to the Epiphany methodologies make tremendous sense in today’s globally competitive economy.
Robust and competitive business strategies and technical concepts thrive based on the dynamics of being exquisitely and constantly connected to the customers fueling your revenue stream. These conversations not only focus on potential investors but also – and more importantly – early adopters who are willing to pay real live money for what perhaps is an incomplete, but minimum viable, product or platform concept.
Perhaps it’s time for established manufacturing and service companies to engage in some cross-pollination with the academic entrepreneurial community. A bit of hybrid vigor is called for. Take a page or two out of the I-Corps platform and methodologies.
What got you to where you are today is not necessarily going to sustain you in the future. There’s strength in collaboration.
Babette N. Ten Haken, Founder & President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers®, LLC, brings entrepreneurial mojo and business- and revenue-producing collaboration and communication tools to small and mid-sized businesses and startups. She was named one of the Top 50 Sales & Marketing Influencers 2013. Her book, Do YOU Mean Business? focuses on technical / non-technical collaboration strategies and tools.