November 2, 2020

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Crossing the Valley of Death: Tech Transfer Marketing


By Alex Mullins, Technology Marketing Associate

In the field of technology transfer, we often talk about the valley of death between academic research and the commercialization of technology. This dreaded gap occurs after a researcher has developed a promising idea, received funding through grants, and then runs out of cash to move the idea to the next stage. Ultimately crossing the valley of death is a necessity in order to move your idea to the point where third parties are ready to invest the significant dollars to move the product through the path to commercialization.

Marketing can help get to the other side

OLV has the tools to help you cross this valley and get your ideas out to the people who need them. Some common ways inventors establish a line across the valley are licensing a technology to companies who have already expressed interest or by launching a start-up company that then attracts the necessary funding for further development.

But, what about the majority of other technologies, the ones that don’t fall into either of these categories? The best tool for the job is technology marketing.

When starting to market a technology, the goal is to ultimately look for a company on the other side of the valley to catch the line and help bring the technology across.

The first step is to create a technology summary able to speak to people from a variety of technical backgrounds, as it can often take a few eyes before the summary reaches someone with the expertise to really appreciate the technology. It’s important the summary clearly communicates:

  1. what problem is being solved
  2. why this solution is better than the others.

The next step is to create a list of companies best positioned for investing in and adapting the technology. This is done using the inventor’s expertise and OLV’s own market research often supported by the Duke graduate student fellow’s program.

OLV’s marketing team then approaches each company either through established networks or by trying to identify new contacts. If any of the companies express interest in the invention, industry conversations are facilitated. During these discussions, inventors are advised on how to best sell their technologies while relying on OLV’s experience to keep the conversations on track towards a possible license or research funding to further advance the technology.

Marketing success doesn’t always mean crossing the valley

Ultimately, the goal is to cross the valley and find a company to license and commercialize your technology, but success in technology marketing also comes in other forms.Metrics for FY20

Critical feedback from industry may mean turning around and trying to cross later. However, this feedback can inform the inventor’s next research steps and helps OLV distribute resources to a more promising future technology.

Any new conversation facilitated between established companies and Duke inventors can foster relationships that can lead to industry collaborations, funded research, and eventually a licensed technology. All of these outcomes from successful technology marketing create a sturdier path across the valley of death and better the chances of bringing Duke’s research to its societal impact.