Taught by the managers of Duke’s angel network and the office of licensing and ventures, Basics of Technology Commercialization offered an overview of the tools used to analyze businesses and business opportunities as well as a look at the steps required to develop and protect intellectual property. I enrolled in the class because I thought that as an engineer, there might come a time when I’d need to know how to protect an idea of mine, regardless of whether or not it was the basis of a new venture. I was also interested in getting better at identifying opportunities for innovation. What I got out was much more than that.
Early in the semester, we analyzed companies including the five in FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) and Uber using SWOT analysis and Porter’s five forces to understand their competitive advantages and suggest ways they might continue to attract and retain customers. Of particular interest were recent advances in autonomous vehicles and machine learning, which could enable tech companies to take an even larger bite out of the automotive and retail sectors.
Later, we honed in on Drucker’s sources of innovation to identify ways to improve existing technologies. The class came up with a wide variety of innovations and practiced pitching them; as part of an exercise, I attempted to sell a new style of alarm clock five minutes after a classmate whispered the idea into my ear. Ideas about bug-hunting drones and stylish space suits (for when we populate Mars) came into the picture during a corporate brainstorming session, all founded in the principles of innovation.
Finally, after learning the basics of intellectual property protection, we brought together the semester’s content in a group pitch centered around a viable business opportunity. I worked with four others to develop a business plan for selling low-cost amblyopia (lazy eye) treatment to underserved segments of the market. Our ten-minute, thoroughly rehearsed pitch was the bow on a semester of all things entrepreneurship.
Although technical content was the class’s focus, the instructors also left ample time for discussion and thought; one even started each of his slide decks with a quote from Rumi. They shared about their own entrepreneurial experiences and brought in guest speakers from places as diverse as Israel and South Philly to share theirs. Listening to them was not only the most valuable part of the class but also the most memorable; they spoke not only about amazing fledgling businesses but also about the crucial roles their challenges, mentors, and personal grit played in their careers. Understanding and synthesizing their stories didn’t necessarily motivate me to become an entrepreneur, but it gave me a sense of what kind of entrepreneur I would want to be: one who helps solve a real need and who is humble and gracious even if successful. Fortunately, these are qualities a person can strive for without staring a business.
See the slide deck for our pitch about an imaginary amblyopia-fighting company, Parallel Vision