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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Triage process for selecting bio-economy projects, Part II

I went through some initial triage items last week, covering Technology, Markets and Economics. These are all data-driven and can be established fairly solidly, with numerical values and probabilities. There are some softer, more touchy-feely items that need to be looked at as well:


Are your partners keen? Do they have cash? Are they known as innovators? Do they have a history of successful partnerships, or do they tend to let the lawyers bog everything down in minutiae? Some very innovative companies also suffer from Not Invented Here syndrome -- outside ideas don't get far. (These tend to be $50 billion companies, with thousands of researchers on staff.)

Be aware of your own blind spots. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail; I have known people and organisations who tend to see the world through the lens of their own expertise. The control engineer sees everything as a control problem; the sensor designer thinks all that is needed is a new sensor. In reality you need both sensors and control systems. In that context, are there partners that you should have involved early? Finance, equipment vendors, technology providers, research providers, raw material suppliers and (especially) end-users can all provide critical knowledge and support.

Internal capacity

Do not assume you can do it all on your own! Apart from the partners listed above, do you have the specialised know-how to do this? If not, what is needed: hire a post-doctoral fellow (PDF, which is not an acronym for a type of document file in this context), support a university project, work with a research lab, partner with a specialist?

What about infrastructure: do you have the necessary specialised lab equipment, pilot plant space, etc.? If not, can you rent access (for an example, click here)? At what cost? Include logistics (costs for shipping material, travel costs to witness trials, probability trials will be inconclusive and will need to be repeated, etc.).

Path forward

If you've made it this far, set out a timeline and budget. List potential milestones for a rigorous go/no-go approach, and be prepared to kill it if it starts to falter. There are several milestone techniques out there, the best known of which is the stage-gate process put together by Robert Cooper. You can buy the book and implement it yourself if you don't want to pay for consulting (click here for more info). 

Frogs and toads

That's it! Well, OK, there is more, but this is a good start. Building up a set of tools, perhaps in Excel, is a useful and quick approach to keeping track of the triage process, especially if you update it as you go along. As metrics improve or worsen, you need to be nimble in deciding to stay the course, make some significant changes, or ditch Plan A and move to Plan B or C.

One last pointer to help in your triage efforts. This is a frog:

And this is a toad:

Good luck! Let me know how it goes.

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