The University of Utah has explored and expoited a number of successful strategies to commercialize its intellectual capital in recent years. Their tech commercialization office is tireless in promoting its proprietary scientific solutions (see last month's blog: Science "Speed Teching" Drives Rapid Commercialization in Utah). But now we're starting to hear about another seriously innovative and fast-moving "laboratory" for cultivating new Salt Lake businesses, and it's a fairly new entity from the U of U's David Eccles School of Business called The Foundry. Instead of creating companies or corporate leaders, the Foundry is a hands-on training program designed to produce entrepreneurs who can identify a successful startup product/business and put together a qualified team to launch and run it.
[Photo courtesy of the Eccles School of Business at the U of U]
One of the great insights of the Foundry is that startup failure is usually not due to a lack of greatness but to a poor understanding of the market and/or the team members' specific capabilities. We can't resist quoting this ruthlessly pragmatic (and funny) passage from The Foundry System:
People with great ideas or nascent businesses rarely fail because the business is too complicated in its earliest stages. The bottom line is that most people cannot manage themselves out of a paper bag. This is a tough pill to swallow, as most people believe that they are good workers (just like most people overestimate their ability as drivers). Further, most teams - built as they are from people who overestimate their own ability - are profoundly dysfunctional, and unaware of their dysfunction. In our experience startups are, in the main, a couple of great insights followed by a mighty slugfest - and it is here, in the day to day ditch-digging that is company-building, that most individuals and teams come up short.
In a recent Fast Company article, Why Utah Matters To Virgin, Amazon, And LeBron James, they explain the Foundry's success (with virtually no expenses) this way:
"So what's the secret? The founders say it has a lot to do with social capital: Students form a tight-knit cooperative network, and as the number of viable business ideas dwindles over the course of a semester, they hire each other. This is in stark contrast to the typical incubator, where a competitive zero-sum-game vibe dominates." Moreover, "a relentless focus on testing, tweaking, and retesting business ideas maximizes a product’s likelihood of surviving in the economic wilds..."
Not all participants in the Foundry laboratory are business students. Members of the Salt Lake community can also join in, as, we imagine, can the university's scientists looking for the tools to make their startups a reality. The important thing is that new businesses get started in Salt Lake, which benefits the university and the city's inhabitants. Some of those businesses will be biotech enterprises, which is the big goal of the state, university, and business sector's concentrated effort (and investment) of the past decade. (Read our blogs on the USTAR program and its innovation center buildings: Biotechnology Research Building To Grow Utah Innovation Economy and Utah Science, Technology and Research Building Opens on Former Golf Course.)
There's another element to nurturing a thriving business community, though, that these Utah entrepreneurs seem to recognize is uniquely valuable: culture. Fast Company says the Foundry method also "has the potential to catalyze urban redevelopment and foster the growth of the creative class in places with fledging hipness quotients, like Salt Lake..." Strong pro-business laws create an incentive, but attracting and retaining out-of-the-box thinkers requires there be some "there there" in the city or town itself. Boulder has that want-to-be-there quality, and has leveraged its cultural attraction to support both university and industry growth. Ditto Austin. San Francisco is widely regarded as the optimal place to launch a tech startup, but it's fantastically expensive and very urban. Salt Lake City has cultural potential, great mountains, excellent business incentives, and several major academic research universities, of which the University of Utah is the most prominent and best-federally-funded. It may also have the entrepreneurial gold that makes those elements coalesce into...well, the next big thing.
[Outdoor arts festival, courtesy of Salt Lake Arts & Culture]
Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. will be in the Utah capitol to hold our 12th Annual Salt Lake BioResearch Product Faire Front Line event on the U of U campus on September 20, 2012. We actively invite life science researchers to join us for this opportunity to network with professional lab research equipment vendors in a comfortable, convenient on-campus environment. Now in our 20th year, BCI is a full-service event marketing and planning company bringing the best products and services to the best research campuses across the country.
For information on exhibiting at this event, or to request a free funding report: