There are no answers inside the building. That is a driving sentiment behind Lean Startup, a methodology that focuses on understanding the wants and needs of potential target customers to determine the commercialization likelihood of a product or technology. It’s an approach adopted by the Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC) in consulting with its clients.
"Over the years I have reviewed dozens of business plans and they almost always fall short in three areas: development of the business model, customer validation and go-to market strategy,” says Linz. “Lean Startup is the fastest and most efficient way to identify a profitable and scalable business model upon which to start a successful business.”
This novel approach for starting new ventures is taught to participants of the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (iCorps), an intensive seven-week program created in 2012 to improve the commercial successes of NSF-funded technology and to expedite the start-up process. CTC staff have served as mentors to UW-Madison-based iCorps teams in the past two years.
2013 iCorps participant Sean Larson embraced the customer-focused approach to determine the commercialization potential of his LS Optimal manufacturing scheduling technology. Larson got out of the building to learn from the very customer segments that might adopt it.
“It is really more about listening for customer needs than trying to persuade the customer to use your technology,” says Larson of the interaction he had with would-be customers. “I had a lot of conversations with a lot of people in manufacturing to identify their problems. They do want solutions, but their needs may not be exactly what I envisioned at first.”
Innovators who take the time to discover what the market wants and needs gain a real and sustainable competitive advantage. For Larson, discovering the response of potential customers to his technology was extremely valuable.
CTC Consultant Linz served as the Mentor on the 2013 iCorp team, along with Larson and UW-Madison Professor Dr. Leyuan Shi as Principal Investigator. Linz and other CTC staff are trained to provide the hard feedback necessary to ensure that clients test their assumptions about everything from the value proposition down to details of the minimum viable product. "The Lean Startup method is very intense,” notes Linz. “It requires a strong commitment to learning, but results in the most realistic learning experience of what it is like to be an entrepreneur.”
Larson continues to explore two possible directions he identified using the Lean Startup approach during iCorps. “We almost have two businesses we can go after. Now we have to figure out which one is a real viable company,” he says. “I now have a process where I can test an idea to determine if it is worth pursuing as a business.”