Tech accelerators are popping up everywhere. According to a recent report, the estimated number of accelerators around the world is anywhere from 300 to over 2,000, spanning six continents. Most of the programs follow the same format: you pitch your concept, get accepted, get mentored, code for three months, and hopefully get funded. These programs have proven successful for a number of startups, but until recently they’ve all failed to address the amount of innovation that already exists and is just waiting to be commercialized.
Last year alone, over 600,000 patents applications were submitted to the U.S. Patent Office. The reality is that the majority of patents successfully filed never see their way into use in companies. They come from brilliant innovators, frequently in academic or government settings, but they never see the light of day, simply because no one ever took the time to see if they could make it go as a business.
So we’re now seeing a new kind of accelerator emerge, of which my own team, Furnace Technology Transfer is one, that aims to match existing technology with talented entrepreneurs who can bring these technologies to market. NASA has a technology transfer program that is doing amazing things with technology in exploration and discovery. There are also universities, like the University of North Carolina, that offer licensing that is attractive to entrepreneurs because, with just a little research, an entrepreneur can find some impressive technologies ready to be introduced to the world.
Returning to hardcore tech
Think of the institutions around the country that are producing incredible innovation, including the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, NASA, and MIT, to name a few. These labs have stockpiles of technology that have gone through the rigors of R&D, and are just waiting to be iterated to the right application. These labs also understand that times are tough and even the Fortune 500 companies don’t have the resources to do internal R&D like they once did. Nor do they have the bandwidth to sort through hundreds of thousands of technologies from labs all around to world that could be their next big product.
Enter the entrepreneur
The reason most of this technology goes unused is because inventors and techies tend not to be business people. They dedicate their lives to creating solutions to real problems. And that’s exactly what they should be doing. They theorize, they hypothesize, they build and they invent. And then they do it again and again, only to have most of those discoveries sit in a file cabinet, never fulfilling their intended purpose.
There are thousands of technologies with two, three, even five years of research and hundreds of thousands of dollars already invested, that simply need a talented startup team and a little bit of capital to get them over the wall and into the hands of users. These users create demand and this demand grabs the attention of a manufacturing corporation that is desperately looking for the next big thing. This benefits the research lab, the startup team, and the corporation, and can be quite lucrative for all.
To be clear, I’m not saying that the current model never works. One thing we know is that science isn’t perfect, and there will always be products that fail. But, now is the time to change the way we look at accelerators. The industry is due for a shake up and having a mixture of both strategies, tech accelerators will have a more robust network of companies, attract more influential mentors and start breaking through the noise.