I’m in Baltimore today at the annual National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) conference. The conference brings together innovators, business leaders and scientists who are funded by the NSF. I look forward to participating in this conference every year as an opportunity to reconnect with interesting people who are working on a range of problems including new lightweight materials, nano manufacturing, advances in biotechnology and energy, and computing and information technology. This is a great place to see some cutting edge raw scientific innovations that are being wrapped by commercial teams and brought to market. This focus gives the conference a unique flavor from any other I’ve attended.
I’ll be speaking about some of the lessons learned as a founder of Mersive. Some of the rocket fuel Mersive used to move so quickly into the market was provided by the NSF. Although there are a number of places to find funding for your early-stage company (venture capital, angel networks, investment banks), the targeted use of government grants for product development is probably some of the highest-octane funding around (and it’s non-dilutive too). We’ve used the NSF funding to go down an exciting path of product development to build a suite of software that is helping introduce a new generation of display technology. We’ve put the NSF funding to good use and paid back the taxpayer via job creation and innovation that will drastically lower the cost of display technology.
I’ll also talk about some of the pitfalls we had to navigate as we grew the company from the five person engineering-led shop to the market-driven company we are today. For example, it’s easy to believe that great technology combined with an enthusiastic sales team is enough to be successful. I’ve learned that how you sell to the market is probably the most important aspect of a technology company other than the technology itself. How you answer that question will define your company.
Will you sell directly to your customers? How will you identify your customers and how will you support them once the sale is made? Will you build end-to-end systems or license technology? We’ve brought our technology to the display market by teaming with some of the top hardware manufacturers and signing up some of the best resellers in the market. This allows us to do what we are truly great at: building software.
My hope is that at least one young entrepreneur can learn some of these lessons from us.