Succeeding as an entrepreneur is tough, you will have to deal with failure and learn from it along the way. Many new science start-ups, including Nanotechs, face similar problems during their early steps, so here are some tips from experts on how to avoid them.
This week, we spoke to the team behind the World Nano Foundation, who have extensive experience working with early-stage nanotechnology start-ups. They shared their best advice for entrepreneurial novices. Here it is:
1. Solutions. An effective start-up will concentrate its attention on solving a problem and fit the technology to it, not the other way around.
Solutions in search of problems generally do not make it very far: choose a problem and work to solve it. Successful Nanotechnology start-ups are using their technologies to solve real-world issues, for example American medical diagnostic company, Nanobiosym, created a mobile device which can quickly diagnose a range of diseases, including Zika virus and Aids, at a much cheaper price than the slow non-mobile traditional methods.
2. Context. Understand your industry and create a solution for its current struggles.
Even if you’re sure your idea is already perfect, you will need to adjust the product for the customers. Many early nano start-ups had to adjust their products depending on the application and industry it was needed for. A hydrophobic coating company needs to adapt to solving different issues depending on its customer, for example protecting shoes from stains for a clothing brand may need a slightly different solution than one needed for making windows ‘self-clean’ themselves on buildings in a major city.
Also, be aware of current regulations, keep up with any economic changes and always know who is in charge of the budget!
For example, a start-up with a healthcare product needs to get approval, i.e. CE Mark in Europe, the FDA in the US and the TGA in Australia, which can delay or even cancel the product launch. Many successful nano-medical start-ups have had to consider this within their timeline before starting sales.
3. Timing. Get ready for the ride.
It’s easy to forget that markets are constantly changing. Each technology has a hype curve during which the expectations drastically change, something which has happened to nanotechnology as a field itself.
Above: The Gartner Hype Cycle for technology describes how new technologies are perceived over time. Although visibility grows quickly at first, the hype decreases over time due to unmet expectations. Stability arises when second- or third-generation products get established in the market.
To surf the wave, you’ll have to identify when hype turns into serious investment. Though this is difficult, some indicators can give you a clue.
4. Teamwork. Build a squad that fill in the expertise you lack and form a team of complimentary skills.
Set clear aims and define what success and failure means for your company. Since there will be many choices along the process, established principles can save you a lot of trouble.
Never fear bringing new people on board when you need their skills for the next step forward, and build up a strong advisory board. If you are a founder with a purely scientific background and the rest of your team are the same, don’t be scared to admit you need other skills in your business to make your start-up successful. For example, if you lack marketing knowledge, bring in someone with the talent to make your business effective in that department.
5. Progress. Real progress is just the successful development of a product worthwhile to your audience.
Some start-ups can get plenty of press releases and awards despite not moving forward at all, while others do not get any and give up. Be confident; listen carefully to all feedback but do not rely too much on external approval.
There is a good reason incubators and accelerators are on the rise at the moment; start-ups are currently the main drivers of the newest technological and scientific applications. And investors are keen to take part in such promising projects.
The most common cause of science start-up failure is not starting in the first place.
If you want to know more about how to make the move from scientist/academic to founder, visit www.worldnanofoundation.com to learn more about the World Nano Foundation.