Techpreneurship, with Jeff Amerine
Who are the venture catalysts?
Recently the assorted cast of INOV8 blog cast members has ranted and rambled quite a bit about what motivates startup junkies to start, what’s needed to incubate tech hatchlings in Arkansas, and various other tips, techniques, and breakthroughs.
Since I rarely have any original thoughts these days, I thought I might continue down a related path to see what I could do to incite a bit of good humored hate and discontent.
So I’ll start with yet another Guy Kawasaki reference to get the ball rolling:
“For every engineer in your startup, add $500,000 in valuation, for every MBA subtract $250,000 in valuation.”
Wow! Talk about a shot across the bow. Guy’s point here in reality is that well-trained MBAs are seldom “venture catalysts.” MBAs typically don’t bring the special sauce into tech ventures that make them different, better, or more innovative. That is the realm of the engineer, scientist, or the creative talent of whatever flavor that can actually create that new better, cheaper, faster, smarter product or service.
So who are these venture catalysts?
Well, that is something I am trying to determine through some qualitative research. I am looking to better understand what perceptions and values cause one university innovator to be a venture catalyst and another to pass. There are likely simple answers, so in true research spirit, I’ll ask 25 complex questions in a search for what is probably a common sense based truth.
Here’s a bit of a qualitative research interview protocol (fancy words for open-ended vs. multiple choice questions) that I am considering using at the UA to understand what values and perceptions motivate a university innovator to participate in a startup or not:
- Tell me about your work experience prior to and during your academic career.
- Describe your current and past research focus.
- Describe what you view your priorities to be as a university researcher and faculty member.
- Describe any experiences you, your family members, or friends have had in running businesses.
- Describe how you feel about research commercialization and what role you see yourself playing in that process, if any.
- Describe your perception of the UA support structure and administration as it relates to researcher involvement in startup ventures.
- When you think about the startup ventures that spin out of universities, what sort of feelings or perceptions come to mind?
- How would you describe your risk tolerance as it relates to time and financial commitments?
- What can you tell me about the UA Board Policy regarding research commercialization, conflict of interest, and conflict of commitment as it relates to faculty involvement in startup ventures?
- How would you describe your relationship with the UA Technology Licensing Office?
- What are your perceptions of the UA Startup Handbook and intellectual property management processes?
- If you were considering doing a startup venture based on your research, how would you go about it?
- If you were to do a startup venture, how would you manage research and teaching requirements while getting the startup running?
- What are your perceptions about the availability of entrepreneurial collaborators with business experience in Arkansas?
- Please tell me what you know about the startup support programs offered by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC), Arkansas Science and Technology Authority (ASTA), Arkansas Risk Capital Matching Fund (ARMCF), Arkansas Small Business Technology Development Center (ASBTDC), and Innovate Arkansas.
- Please tell me what you know about SBIR/STTR government grant funding programs aimed at small technology-based businesses?
- What do you know about the Fund for Arkansas’ Future and Gravity Ventures Arkansas?
- What are your perceptions of the angel investor and venture capital environment in Arkansas?
- What do know about the Virtual Incubation Company?
- What do you know about the UA Research Park and Genesis Incubator?
- Tell me what you know about the relationship of research publication to intellectual property protection requirements?
- What do you know about the UA inventor royalty sharing policies for researcher inventions that are commercialized?
- How would you characterize your world view as it relates to economics and commercial enterprise?
- If you have had the opportunity in the past to participate in a university startup and elected to do so, please explain what motivated you to do so. Conversely, if you elected not to participate please describe why you didn’t participate.
- Based on your current knowledge, perceptions, and values what recommendations or comments would you like to make regarding university startup ventures?
I am pretty confident the list of questions above can be improved through the wisdom or wise cracks of the startup junkie crowd.
Give it a read and maybe together we can ultimately identify why some become prolific venture catalysts and others do not.
(Jeff Amerine is an IA advisor, entrepreneurship educator, and officer with the University of Arkansas Technology Licensing Office. Every Thursday, or whenever the spirit moves him, his Techpreneurship blog will appear in INOV8. Drop him a line in comments.)