ECI participant and adjunct professor Alan Weimer will shed a light into what it takes to commercialise your academic discoveries.
The road from the chemical engineering lab to a commercial process is a difficult one. It requires not only great technology and intellectual property (IP), but also, a market, a great team of generally multi-disciplinary staff who can work together effectively and are driven, money, and a lot of perseverance.
For the case of a large company with deep pockets and an entrenched business it is almost impossible to start a radically new product line because of the immense market threshold required (that is, for a large company having $25B/yr in revenue, the new product must typically have a potential market of maybe $500M/yr, minimum). Product line extensions are much easier (less risky, less time to market – hence, less $ required).
For the case of a startup, those engaged need to be comfortable starting with almost nothing, bootstrapping, and willing to spend a lot of time searching for funds, partners and customers. For startups, those involved are usually paid below market rates and are engaged out of personal interest, the startup environment, and the potential for ultimate reward. Those involved in a startup need to understand that the risk takers (i.e. VCs) look almost entirely at the startup management as the most important consideration; IP is important from the aspect of protection, but is secondary and, hence, faculty members spinning startups out of their labs are generally lousy CEOs. This talk will present first hand examples of both (1) the path taken from a laboratory curiosity to a successful commercial process at a major company (Dow Chemical) and (2) the path taken to commercialize lab IP out of the university.
About the speaker
Alan W. Weimer, H. T. Sears Memorial Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, joined the faculty of the University of Colorado in 1996 after a 16-year career with the Dow Chemical Company. He was named Dow Research Inventor of the Year in 1993, and received Dow’s “Excellence in Science Award” in 1995 for commercializing high-temperature processing to produce advanced materials. He was named University of Colorado Inventor of the Year in 2004 and received both the campus-wide and the College of Engineering and Applied Science Faculty Research Awards in 2005.
He is recipient of the 2005 U.S. Department of Energy Hydrogen Program R&D Award for developing solar-thermal technology to split water, the 2009 American Institute of Chemical Engineer’s (AIChE) Thomas Baron Award in Fluid-Particle Systems for his pioneering effort to functionalize fine particles with thin films, and the 2010 AIChE Excellence in Process Development Research Award for his persistence to commercialize his academic discoveries. His former students have co-founded two spin-off companies out of his university laboratory (ALD NanoSolutions in 2001 and Copernican Energy, now Sundrop Fuels, in 2006). He received an R&D 100 Award for his IP licensed to ALD NanoSolutions, Inc. For the Sundrop Fuels effort, he was named recipient of the 2011 Excellence in Bio-Derived Technology Commercialization Award (by the State of Colorado Clean Technology Industry Association).
He is an inventor on 31 issued U.S. patents and an author of over 150 peer-reviewed publications. He has directed the research of 29 Ph.D. students; and 27 of the almost 100 undergraduates that he has mentored have either received Ph.D.s, or, are currently enrolled in Ph.D. programs elsewhere in the United States.
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