FOUR IDEAS TO TAKE TO MARKET
Students in the pilot class eventually zoned in on four inventions they wanted to take to market: a software security product the Air Force uses to prevent phishing and viruses on its computers; an adjustable seat cushion used to prevent fatigue in fighter pilots who need to sit in their seats for eight-hour-plus missions; microbial detection technology the Air Force uses to assess sanitary conditions for food prep when overseas or on a mission; and a superhydrophobic coating that repels water on the surfaces of planes when used in subzero temperatures.
The next step for the teams of engineering and business students was assessing the inventions for commercial opportunities that could lead to the creation of viable startups. The textbook for the class was Wendy Kennedy’s “So What? Who Cares? Why You? The Inventor’s Commercialization Toolkit,” which gives advice on how to assess business opportunities for scientific and technical inventions and create commercialization plans. As they developed their business plans, students engaged in market research, talked to potential consumers and determined consumer need, Lewis says, while engineers on the team helped develop prototypes for the products.
Creativity abounded in the approaches the student teams took to the inventions, Roe says. For example, the team that chose the Air Force adjustable seat technology wanted to use it for long-haul truck drivers who, like fighter pilots, can become easily become fatigued because of lack of circulation in their lower extremities during multi-hour drives. Another team wanted to use the water repellant coating in ski wax products, and to improve efficiency in the label-making industry.
‘THE SECRET SAUCE’
During the development phase, every team got to speak with the inventor of the technology, picking their brains on the product’s design and how they thought it could be used in the business world.
“The Entrepreneurs Center has an ‘in’ where we can bring an Air Force inventor into the equation. Without the inventor, there is a lot of stuff that is lost in translation,” Roe says. “They provide the secret sauce.”
Finally, at the end of the pilot class the teams got a chance to pitch the ideas to a group of angel investors and venture capitalists from the Dayton area who provided feedback on the viability of the products in the marketplace.
ADVERTISING ‘MILITARY-GRADE’ TECH
As of now, only one of the four teams from the pilot class has decided to move ahead with their business plan. James Foster, a recent Dayton graduate and entrepreneurship major, was part of the team that decided to test whether the Air Force’s cybersecurity program could be sold to protect the computers of small business owners. Foster believes the product is different from other commercially available cybersecurity software because of its ability to stop viruses before they even get onto a computer — and he’s excited about the potential to advertise the product to potential customers as “military-grade technology.”
“I liked doing the class because most of the technologies we looked at were already way past the idea of concept,” says Foster, who’s in the process of waiting to get approval from the Air Force to use the product commercially. “I was drawn to this cybersecurity technology and got really excited because this is something that could be revolutionary in certain environments, especially in the small business world.”
Another group of Dayton students that worked with the Entrepreneurs Center last summer is moving forward with an idea to take fuel filters designed for Air Force jet fighters and repurpose them for water filtration systems in homes. The team pitched the idea last fall in Flyer Pitch, the University of Dayton’s business plan competition, and won about $18,000 in prizes that helped them pay for Air force licensing and other upfront fees.
“Our hope is to get some of these students to launch businesses and try to start them up in Dayton, Ohio,” Lewis says.
SCHOOL VOWS MORE POST-CLASS PROJECT SUPPORT
The pilot class was such a success that the University of Dayton plans to continue offering the class in the future, including a new section this fall, Lewis says. This time around, the school will offer students more avenues of financial support for those who decide to pursue commercialization of their projects post-class, and will offer a separate track for students to gain funding in the school’s business competition.
Thus far, one of the biggest stumbling blocks students have encountered is coming up with the money to license the technology from the Air Force, which can run anywhere from $1,000 to more than $10,000 — a lot of money for college students to come up with out of pocket, Roe notes.
“The tough part of this is, you have to set the expectations in the beginning and let them know that commercialization is not easy,” Roe says. “They will be introduced to a very unique and great opportunity, but it takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and persistence to actually pull off one of these technologies in the commercial market.”
Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.