Technology-based entrepreneurship Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2007

Any individual or business looking for a way to access the research and technological resources of The University of Texas at Dallas need not look further than the Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at UT Dallas.

“We’re a business-friendly university. The Institute serves as a gateway for accessing the products, research and technology developed here,” says Joseph C. Picken, Ph.D., executive director of the institute.

“We strive to provide real opportunities to turn ideas into products and businesses that add value,” says David Deeds, Ph.D., the institute’s academic director.

Smart Business asked Picken and Deeds for their input on the process of taking ideas and turning them into products — and how the Institute Innovation & Entrepreneurship can help.

What is the most important question that must be asked before trying to bring an idea to market?

Deeds: The key question is, ‘What value will there be for the customer?’ Whoever the customer might be, you have to give them enough value that they will be willing to shift their dollars from what they are currently doing. Entrepreneurs tend to forget this. Why will someone take a risk and pay you substantially more to acquire this product than what it costs you to make it?

Picken: It’s helpful to focus on a single customer. What value will you create for this person? Also, entrepreneurs need to be more realistic about the potential market. Many see a huge market and wrongly assume that even if they obtain one-tenth of 1 percent of that market, they will get rich. That’s not the case. They need to work from the bottom up — selling their idea one customer at a time.

What are some of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs or companies make when determining whether an idea can successfully be brought to market?

Picken: They overestimate the value of the idea. They also assume they are the first to see the opportunity, when, in fact, they are frequently in a race to get there first. Another misconception is that ‘if you build it, they will come.’ Marketing, channel access and reaction of the competition are all important factors that must be thoroughly examined.

Deeds: Another mistake involves determining price. Price is determined by what the customer is willing to pay; it may have little relevance to the actual cost of producing the good. So you really need to think about pricing not from the cost standpoint but on the willingness factor. Properly managing cash flow is also crucial. Many entrepreneurs will tell you they ‘ran out of money.’ The key is to manage your resources to minimize the outflow and maximize the inflow.

Picken: Many entrepreneurs lose contact with their customers as they grow. As you grow and add layers you should be ensuring that everyone maintains contact with customers on a continual basis.

How does the Institute assist the general business community at large?

Deeds: The institute serves as an initial point of contact for entrepreneurs, start-up companies and individuals seeking assistance from the university, with respect to projects, programs and new ventures within the general domain of innovation and entrepreneurship. In addition to our academic programs that teach students how to think like entrepreneurs, we offer programs such as the Entrepreneurial Development Series and the Commercialization and Entrepreneurship Boot Camp. We also match students with local companies for special projects and internships.

Picken: In addition, we have an External Alliance program that brings together the broader community including businesses, incubators, investors, professional service firms, local, state and federal governments, and higher education institutions across the region.

How do businesses benefit by working with the Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship?

Picken: First, both large and small businesses need the entrepreneurial viewpoint. Our programs give executives a chance to learn those mindsets. Second, it gives companies the opportunity to attend the Research and Technology Showcases held at the university three times per year. Third, working with the institute gives managers the opportunity to interact with students. Finally, there are opportunities for sponsorships and networking.

Deeds: The institute itself is an entrepreneurial venture. We encourage local executives to keep an eye on our Web site, call us, visit our offices. We are continuing to evolve and always welcome the opportunity to work with the local business community.

JOSEPH C. PICKEN, Ph.D. is executive director of the Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at The University of Texas at Dallas. Reach him at (972) 883-4986 or jpicken@utdallas.edu.

DAVID DEEDS, Ph.D., is academic director. Reach him at (972) 883-5904 or david.deeds@utdallas.edu. Visit their Web site at http://innovation.utdallas.edu.