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University-Industry Engagement Advisor

Successful start-ups take a problem-first approach to innovation

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: August 15th, 2018

In her recent post for Forbes, tech writer Gemma Milne asserts that the key to innovation is to identify a problem, not just a discovery.

Milne points out that many university tech transfer offices begin the commercialization process by choosing a faculty invention, but if it’s not an obvious innovation like a new drug, the offices have difficulty figuring out what it can actually be used for and who would be willing to buy it.

A number of forward-thinking start-up accelerators are now taking a problem-first approach to innovation, including Deep Science Ventures (DSV) in London and the Helsinki Challenge in Finland. At DSV, entrepreneurs and engineers are assigned to specific problems in areas such as Alzheimer’s, antimicrobial resistance and energy storage. The Helsinki Challenge assembles teams of scientists and engineers to create solutions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“If your aim from the start is to produce companies, the challenge for tech transfer is that successful products and services are rarely formed of only a single innovative finding,” says Dominic Falcão, director of DSV. “No single piece of research resulted in a washing machine, or the Tesla Model S.”

Milne also points to the Food For Thought Foundation, a non-profit which organizes a yearly pre-accelerator and prize challenge for start-ups to take on one major goal: feeding 9 billion people by 2050. In addition, the foundation seeks entrepreneurs, policy-makers and corporations to help solve this challenge.

“For this new breed of problem-led organizations, curating a broad network of experts, stakeholders, entrepreneurs and enthusiasts is key to matching niche but critical problems with rogue, diverse pieces of information which come together to solve them,” writes Milne. “With more organizations focusing on modern methods of venture creation, and increasing levels of openness about how science can be done outside of the academy, the challenge can only get easier.”

Source: Forbes

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