Launch the Venture
What I did:
During the 2009-2010 school year I participated in Launch the Venture, a program that helps UNC students and faculty turn ideas into business ventures. Wanting some experience in building a business, I attended the first class hoping to join a team, and I luckily discovered that my friend Andrew Hemmert was putting together one to develop his nascent technology: a nerve agent detector.
We spent the next six months moving through the different phases of the course: opportunity recognition, feasibility and business planning. We were privileged to have as our advisors successful entrepreneurs and experts in technology development and the defense industry.
I helped my team develop a value proposition, business model, and target market and competitive analyses. Here is one of the value propositions we developed:
Value Proposition: Identizyme Defense Technologies has produced an array of proprietary enzymes that can detect and identify specific nerve agents. For troops and first responders who might be exposed to these toxins, being able to quickly identify the particular agent is crucial for administering the most effective antidote. Current solutions to identify specific agents are expensive, heavy, and require a constant power source, thereby limiting their field use. Alternatively, colorimetric, non-powered devices used within the Department of Defense are less expensive but cannot identify specific agents. Identizyme Defense Technologies’ enzymes will be incorporated into lightweight, hand-held detection devices that do not require power and can detect agents five times faster than current colorimetric devices. In addition, they will deliver premium identification capabilities at a price ten times lower than the powered competition, allowing for more widespread distribution and protection for our warfighters.
What I learned:
I learned that developing a business is a lot like science:
- It requires a lot of hard work and passion.
- The state of the field is constantly in flux. You have to be very flexible in your business plan, responding quickly to new discoveries, changes in the state of the market (or scientific field) and your competition.
- Effective communication is essential for success. As we pitched our idea to entrepreneurs, we saw that the way we said things was just as important as the content. Scientists can do a much better job of communicating their discoveries to garner the support of the public.
What I loved:
- I thrive on a team. Our team’s enthusiasm and energy for the project waxed and waned. But then during the low moments someone would suggest a new idea that would reenergize us. Working with a team makes a good idea great.
- I love communicating clearly and succinctly. My favorite part of the project was creating a value proposition. Like an abstract in science, the value proposition is the first thing people read when they encounter your work. It is where you establish the salience of your work and encourage them to learn more.
Our hard work paid off! The technology is being patented and developed, we were awarded Department of Defense SBIR Phase 1 funding, and our team won 3rd place at the 2010 Global Venture Challenge.