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Defense & Security

At a startup, speed Is essential: panelists talk about how to make it

SPIE Newsroom

For a high-tech startup, finding partners and collaborators is essential to speed a new idea toward the marketplace, said Joseph Montemarano, of Princeton, chair of the Early Stage Technology Commercialization workshop at SPIE Defense, Security and Sensing in Baltimore recently.

Montemarano, executive director of the multi-university Center for Mid-InfraRed Technologies for Health and the Environment, or MIRTHE, led the four-member panel. When first seeking capital, he said, tell investors to "leave their checkbook at home," and educate them on "what we can do to make money."

Tom Cellucci, of ICS Nett, Inc., a veteran of the Bush and Obama administrations who was the first chief commercialization officer in the Department of Homeland Security, said, "There's never been a better time to be a small technology company," as long as you stake out a unique capability. His detailed advice is posted at the MIRTHE website. Speed is vital, Cellucci said. "You need strategic vision coupled with ability to get things done quickly."

David Pustai, program manager for innovation and advanced research and development at Lockheed Martin, said Lockheed uses social media to speed up efforts to reach small R&D companies ‒ it posts a "Supplier Wire" telling how to connect up, and list "What We Buy" and "Immediate Needs." "Think about innovation as a structured learning process," he said. The steps include verifying assumptions, trying experiments, and finally implementation.

Ralph E. Taylor-Smith, general partner of Battelle Ventures, also said speed was central to his investing. "We like to invest for two years, not five years," he said. At longest, he intends to recoup the investment in no more than seven years. He invests mainly in seed-round financing and startup financing. Investors, he said, should add more than money, helping find answers to "How are you going to make money, and how are we going to make money?"

Kevin Lascola, of Maxion Technologies, recalled his 12 years at a small startup coming out of an Army research lab. Several times, his company shifted to new laser products and reorganized; then it seized an offer last year from Thorlabs for an acquisition. The lesson: somehow keep the company alive until it finds traction in the marketplace.

Ford Burkhart