The growing gap in the transition of inventions from the research lab to the market is slowing the development and scaling of new hardware technologies in the United States. This is especially evident in the complex advances of microelectronics, in which US leadership has fallen behind. A recent seminar on semiconductor technology translation and hardware startups brought together stakeholders from across the country to analyze this challenge and propose solutions.
Organized last month by MIT, State University of New York (SUNY) and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), the virtual event brought together academic researchers, industry members, companies Venture capitalists, federal and state agencies, nonprofits, accelerator ventures, and startups for a broad-based conversation about how to regain U.S. leadership.
In his opening remarks, MIT Director Martin Schmidt challenged speakers and attendees to capture the moment. “We need to think boldly, act decisively, prepare to innovate our operations, and not be thwarted by obstacles,” said Schmidt, who will take over as RPI president in July. old models of engagement,” said Schmidt, who will take over as president of RPI in July. “This workshop will tackle an area that is ripe for work and that is the process by which we bring the work to the table. Academic work has an impact through commercialization.”
An audience of 632 individuals joined 30 invited speakers to discuss in four sessions: innovation ecosystem, stakeholder perspective, preparing companies to grow and startups , startup experience and shared facilities. “It takes a village to develop a fledgling idea into a prototype that can then become a product that will hopefully reach millions of people,” said Vladimir Bulović, Fariborz Maseeh Professor of Emerging Technologies, dean of MIT.nano and co-organizer of the conference. “Starting and sustaining more tech startups will create more technology and more new jobs, which will benefit established partners in the industry, nurture new industry and led to the rise of US leadership in microelectronics.”
An environment built for success
What contributes to a thriving innovation ecosystem – and how do we create an ecosystem for hard technology? Fiona Murray, William Porter Professor of Entrepreneurship (1967) and associate dean for innovation and inclusion at the MIT Sloan School of Management, proposes three key characteristics: a strategic focus, a critical system of resources for founders like talent and funding, and connecting stakeholders – a community purposefully built around priority areas.
Watch a video playlist of the Technology Translation Workshop presentations.
This concept of connection reverberated throughout the conference. “Proximity fosters connection drives collaboration,” said Bob Metcalfe, professor emeritus of innovation and entrepreneurship at the University of Texas at Austin. Metcalfe noted seven “species” all of which are essential for a thriving startup ecosystem: funding agencies, research professors, grads, entrepreneurs scaling, investors venture capitalists, strategic partners and early adopters.
To explore the perspectives of these many stakeholders, the workshop featured talks by experts in different roles from different geographical locations. Speaking from an industry and venture capital perspective, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Applied Materials Omkaram Nalamasu, Intel Capital CEO Sean Doyle and In-Q-Tel CEO Eileen Tanghal offered advice on what to look for when investing in hard tech. Common themes include proof of concept, common development basis for both cost and effectiveness, access to talent, and customer acquisition.
“Hard tech startups have this very wide death valley. They face a lot of challenges when it comes to finding the right people, making money, and getting the partnership.” Tanghal said, describing obstacles facing startups such as an aging workforce in the semiconductor sector, supply chain problems and difficulty finding first customers.
From university to commercialization
The expansion of the talent pool has its own set of obstacles. Julie Lenzer, Director of Innovation at the Institute for Advanced Renewable Manufacturing, discussed the challenges universities face in supporting hard technology – the slow pace of academia, the aversion with risks, intellectual property (IP) rights, mission deviations when a faculty or student’s business is not lauded by the organization, and the problem that universities do not produce products products ready for the market.
“Usually, when we get out of the lab, the level of technology readiness is very low and slow; Lenzer, formerly director of innovation at the University of Maryland, said. “That poses a high technical risk – will this work? We don’t know yet, but it will take a lot of capital to get there. Is the market ready for it? Would it be better enough for someone to break the way they’re doing? It’s not just about the technology, it’s about the market opportunity.”
To help prepare tech startups for tough times, support systems are needed. Greentown Labs Senior Director of Membership Jason Ethier, Activate CEO Aimee Rose and Innovation Director of the Grant Warner College of Architecture and Engineering explored best practices for preparing developers founders, emphasizing the importance of articulating business hypotheses, understanding market needs, and being open and approachable.
The workshop also called on the startup founders themselves to share their experiences and pain points. Veronika Stelmakh, CEO and Co-Founder of Mesodyne, highlights the many startup competitions and accelerators she and her co-founder have entered to learn about customer discovery, how to run a business and what grants to apply for.
Now, she says, their main challenge is reducing costs. “For this we need volume. To get mass, we need to have traction with the customer. To gain traction with customers, you need a product, and if your product is expensive, you can’t get there,” she said. “This chicken and egg problem is why we need programs, especially for hardcore tech startups, that allow us to build things with limited resources.”
Accessing shared facilities and toolsets to help reduce costs and accelerate the development of new hard-engineered technologies was a recurring theme throughout the workshop. “Space is precious,” said John Iacoponi, vice president of technology strategy at NY CREATES, which runs the Albany NanoTech Complex. “We recognize that startups need to be able to change materials, have flexible spaces, and have tools that any organization cannot afford.”
Finally, Bob Karlicek, professor of electrical, computer and systems engineering at RPI and conference co-organizer, outlined the challenges facing academia. “We need advanced technology earlier in the education process,” says Karlicek. “We need more features accessible to students and faculty to foster that talent pool and innovate much faster at the university level. We need to think about IP strategies to protect startups. We need better early stage funding models, larger reserve early stage funds. ”
Co-organizer Nick Querques, director of new projects at the SUNY Research Foundation, continued: “Universities need to be seen as generators of talent, not only to train the next engineers but also as next generation of entrepreneurs. “Significant funding is required at all levels, starting with undiluted government funding for multi-institutional hubs and technologies, and ending with industry investments in both startups.” and facilities”.
The Semiconductor Technology Translation and Hardware Startup Seminar conference demonstrated the high level of interest and interest among stakeholders across the country to improve the process of bringing new hard technology to market. To change, it will take the entire ecosystem.
“It’s not just the idea,” summarizes Bulović, “it’s the process of expanding on that idea, the process of training the talent and understanding the stakeholders you’ll encounter.” “We needed a national program that could bring even more startups to the scaling stage. We need more shots on target, and that will lead to more success and a resurgence in the nation’s ability to restore dominance in microelectronics and many other difficult tech industries. . ”