From Observation to Action
H.S. Dracones was formed after years of observing the interactions between the federal government and technology research. From the vantage points of conducting congressional affairs work for DARPA and working with companies that wanted to commercialize government funded technology, we were able to witness this process in its entirety. These observations led us to identify two consistent themes—the language barrier between the government and private sector, and the lack of understanding about how each function, invest, and operate. We saw a tremendous need to bridge these two communities, and, therefore, an opportunity for us to make an impact.
For any program, the goal is technology transition. However, due to a variety of factors, many technologies won’t transition at all and will fall into the “technology valley of death,” never to resurface. While every technology investment by the Federal Government will provide lessons learned, no one wants any investment to appear as though it was made in vain and this challenge is seen government wide.
From a government stance, there is only so much they can do to prepare a performer company for “life after R&D.” They can make introductions to other organizations (either government, service partners, or private sector) to continue to invest in the technology. They can build in commercial assistance programs to help companies begin to think about (and plan for) a transition strategy. While both of these are very important, the government is still limited in how they are able to assist based on what's actually needed to see these technologies transition. That isn’t to say, however, that adding more external processes would solve the problem. Most often, performer companies are not internally prepared for “what’s next”, meaning they aren’t able to hit the ground running once their R&D funding runs out. These companies need to consider their internal structure and strategy and ensure that they are appropriately prepared for potential commercialization. Introductions to potential transition partners would be much more effective if performer companies took the steps to prepare their organizations for the next phase.
The truth is, performer companies are ill-prepared for transition because performing research for the government and commercializing for the private sector are very different undertakings. Each sector’s motivations and language are different, as well as their metrics for success. The government is focused on whether or not the technology concept works, while the private sector is focused on whether or not there is a market demand for the product. To overly simplify success from the government’s perspective, the technology needs to work and meet its development timeline; in turn, the performer company is compensated for its work. In the private sector, there are a myriad of additional factors beyond functionality and schedule: market demand and market impact, internal structure for receiving funds, client fulfillment, internal hiring pipeline, etc. All of that must be in place before the company can receive any compensation from sales.
Just because a performer company was successful working with the government does not mean that they will be successful in the private sector. Many companies fail in their attempts to commercialize not because they have a bad product but rather because they make incorrect assumptions about their potential commercial success based on their experiences as a performer. Most often, they rush into commercialization without considering the foundational strategy they will need to succeed. Focusing on sales right out of the gate is tempting, but it is a recipe for disaster if you don’t have the structure in place to allow for your own success.
In our opinion, this type of assistance must come from a third party- someone to bridge the gap between the government and the private sector. Someone to translate between the two worlds. Someone who understand the languages each speak and the motivations that drive them towards investment. That’s where we come in.