There is a widely used term within research and development: the technology valley of death. It describes when a company or individual receives funding to develop a product—or further a scientific study—and it fails to bridge the chasm between applied research and technology commercialization. Often, the failure doesn’t stem from the technical aspects themselves, but rather the lack of, or inability to, create a space in the market for them. In budding areas, messaging on the subject needs to catch up with the funding apparatus and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, proper messaging needs to be addressed well before the funding ends. You either end up overfunded and underappreciated or underfunded and underappreciated; both situations are lose-lose.
In healthcare, technology and medicine are merging like never before, taking the industry to a whole new level. The problem is that development runs years ahead of policy creation, and current government regulations are ill suited for the modern pace of technology. Products and advancements in the field are flooding the market, which stifled FDA regulations and tax codes are not prepared for. This aging regulatory structure, and government culture, adds layers of red tape and discouragement to would-be innovators.
There have been many breakthrough success stories in healthcare innovation, but it is important to understand that true impact in the field does not occur overnight and the companies responsible did not achieve their success alone. Science does not sell itself, and it is imperative for companies and individuals to start thinking about social capital as a business asset and viewing portfolio work in a broader context.
Often, in pursuit of technological development, innovation is created in a vacuum with little-to-no foresight into the broader forces that drive it forward. It is easy to have tunnel vision when sprinting toward the finish line, but the laser focus that drives product development forward can significantly deter long-term success. Successful technology commercialization is rarely a linear path and business opportunities are still largely people driven.
There are many components that play a key role in successful commercialization, and more often than not your biggest driving force will always be people. People will ultimately push your idea over the top, whether it be through policy implementation, connections, influence, advocacy, funding, market knowledge, or simply word of mouth.
Your technology on its own is not enough. Arguably there are two proofs of concept—if your technology works and if there is a place in the market for it. Fortunately, there is no shortage of demand for innovations in the healthcare field. Rather, there is a shortage of knowledge in the proper steps that must be implemented to create a space for your innovation.
The reason that coalitions are imperative to success is because you need early adoption and advocacy. It is important for lawmakers and investors to understand what technologies are coming down the pipeline, so that they can create pathways for larger adoption. If you wait until the final steps of development to seek these relationships, you will find yourself behind the curve.
Coalitions exist so that you don’t have to forge ahead alone. They help bridge the knowledge gap between esoteric science and technology issues and introduce them into a broader culture. Generally, they are those outside your immediate customer base or area of expertise—they are the individuals who speak a different “language” and represent different sectors. If you do not engage them, you will constantly be living in an echo chamber of sameness. Moments of brilliance and breakthrough often are the result of stepping outside your comfort zone.
Highlighted below are four often-overlooked areas that when executed properly can propel your commercialization strategy and set you on the right path to coalition building.
Discovering your value proposition: Today, every company brands itself as “game changing” and “revolutionary” when it comes to the healthcare market—but what does that mean? What is it about your company and your product that is truly unique? What benefit do you offer that no one else can?
Identifying key stakeholders: To be successful you need to identify your key stakeholders and you need to make them care. Who beyond your base customer can benefit from your work? Who has a stake in your product and its development?
Creating a messaging strategy: Often failure to commercialize doesn’t stem from the technology itself but rather the lack of proper storytelling. It is one thing to communicate your technology. It is another to communicate the impact in a language others understand and can get excited about. All too often communication and engagement is solely focused on the base customer. How can you shift your communications strategy to reach a broader audience?
Identifying end goals and planning a path ahead: The pace of your innovation needs to progress in conjunction with building your social capital. The two are intertwined. What is your path for scalability and how will you get there? What gaps in expertise or funding are hindering that success?
Remember, true breakthrough success does not occur overnight. Leverage your social capital to get ahead of the competition.