The New Chasm
Technology Commercialization in American Business Confusion reigns. Big Data is BIG and massively complex; yet, it is supposed to be “the answer”. The country’s GNP is progressively generated by academia, public institutions and government think tanks; Government and public investment directly in private enterprises, other than their own government services-for-hire, is in stealth mode. Conference after conference brings new NIH, DOD and DOE innovations to eager audiences: analytics, new materials, virtual reality 2.0, new energy technologies, etc. scream from scientists focused on research and development. These are intended to bring new life into the American economy. Yet there is something missing in all the hype.
Recent visits to conferences have engrained in me a sense that the current state of innovation is following the logic of big problems require big complicated solutions. Confusion reigns. Those with the problems (e.g., DOD, FAA, and NIH) are increasingly frustrated with the delivery of explanations of the solutions. This inevitably culminates in frustration, despair and resignation. The answer to the current complications of American Business is not MORE COMPLEXITY delivered in the voice of a Ph.D. The answer is a focused effort on closing the real “chasm” of American business: the distillation of all this complexity into manageable solutions for customers where they can evaluate the VALUE PROPOSITION in their terms. This is the very definition of commercialization.
The abundance of Silicon Valley start-ups hides the reality of current business health. Sure, the successes of “unicorn” companies are getting attention and making it appear that things are great. But, like the temporary effects of steroids on the body, payback is inevitable. The health of American business lies in SMB health and the breadth of companies succeeding in delivering value to the marketplace. The SMB sector used to be the source of innovation commercialization. Due to many reasons, previously outlined in earlier blogs, the source of technology and scientific innovation is coming from academic and public grant funding institutions (for better or worse). And this is where the new chasm of American Business is found.
The illusive leap from technology to commercial viability is plaguing America. We are awash in technology. We are the most innovative country in the world. But we are lagging in commercial enterprise development. The growth in startups as a percentage of overall business is dismal compared to 10 years ago, much less 20 years ago (go ahead check the Census data; I have). Even in Silicon Valley the numbers of funded enterprises is decreasing even though the total funding dollars is up sharply (e.g. Unicorn production). Patent filings are way up but really only in Healthcare and Computers; the rest of the world are focused on inventing “things”. Absent are the future lucrative areas of materials science, electrical equipment and transportation (e.g. manufactured goods).
Of course, this all makes perfect sense. In the absence of a healthy domestic marketplace for innovations, the bootstrapped start-up is forced to set expectations, and product sophistication, low enough to survive short-term risk. Pack on services! Generate “soft” cash to try and fuel future growth! Shorten the product development lifecycle to conserve cash! “Hard” products that generate manufacturing opportunities and jobs are hard (no pun intended) to find. The answer in my opinion? Close the New Chasm of the Innovation GAP: focus on delivering a value proposition in simple terms to customers of innovative products where the value is objectively articulated in time, costs and business advantage.