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Guide Targets High-Tech Start-Ups

Photonics Spectra
Dec 1997
Michael D. Wheeler

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. -- To be successful, small high-technology start-up companies -- including manufacturers of photonic components -- need to listen to and learn from their customers. That's the advice found in "Making Money with Your Technology," a new guidebook available from Research Triangle Institute.
The guide profiles companies such as Sensiv, a joint venture of two manufacturers of optical fibers and probes, that took the necessary steps to learn more about its customers. Facing the hurdle of how to penetrate a developing market, the Waltham, Mass., company forged a distribution alliance with SpectraTech, a major player in the spectrometer accessories markets. Through SpectraTech's well-established channels, Sensiv received more direct feedback about what its customers were looking for -- and that feedback has translated into an increasingly successful business.
In discussing similar companies, the guide profiles a number of companies like Sensiv, details the successful professional habits of different entrepreneurs and small-business managers. Funded by NASA's Langley Research Center, the guide is based on more than 100 interviews and extensive research.
Rick King, the guide's project manager, said that too often entrepreneurs become enamored with technology rather than placing the proper focus on the user. He advocates that entrepreneurs reach out to other business owners in their community for feedback.
"The danger for a lot of creative technical people is they are isolated. Get out and share your ideas with others. It's amazing what you can learn from the guy running the floral shop down the road," King said.
Some conclusions from "Making Money with Your Technology" include:
  • Customers buy what a product can do for them, not what a product does.
  • The new product needs to be significantly better than what potential customers are using.
  • To ensure that a new technology solves a problem and therefore will make money, entrepreneurs must involve users and corporate partners on their development team.
  • Because markets and technologies are always changing, the successful entrepreneur must adopt an "adapt as you go" mentality.
  • Business owners must know their own strengths.
  • Corporate partners are key allies who are essential to leveraging technology and selling across multiple applications.
  • Investment capital is necessary for growth. Senior management must find it, manage it and multiply it.
    Copies of the business guide are available at a cost of $20 by contacting Research Triangle Institute's Center for Technology Applications at (919) 541-7202 or Rick King at rking@rti.org .


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