Published On: 07/26/2001
Creative fires ignite to bring tech babies to market
Technology NOW helps commercialize innovation
Story By: Tom Keyser

The smokeless cigarette never quite caught fire. A gadget designed to automatically replace poop-encrusted bird-cage liner didn’t fly, either.

Then there was the soothing arthritis salve. Looked like a hot one – until further analysis revealed the active ingredient to be horseradish.

Despite these inspired, but ultimately legless, innovations, it’s a pleasure to report that the creative fires smoulder unabated on drawing boards and labs – even in suburban attics and garages – across Alberta.

But it’s one thing to sketch plans for a nuclear-powered, twin-engine popsicle stick. It’s quite another to convince the world your beloved brainchild is needed.

It’s even trickier – particularly when investment markets are soft — to navigate the long, pricey and perilous path from conception to commercialization to money in the bank.

Larry MacDougal, Business Edge
Beverley Sheridan's company helps commercialize promising inventions.
But it happens, especially if the innovator in question has an angel in his pocket, or a well-informed consultant to ride shotgun.

This preamble will serve to introduce Beverley Sheridan, MSc.

Sheridan is president of Technology NOW, and the former boss of University Technologies International Inc. (UTI), one of the first private, for-profit, technology commercialization companies in the country.

With UTI, a wholly owned subsidiary of the University of Calgary, Sheridan helped lead several breakout technologies down the long, tortuous trail to market.

Now she’s offering similar services via her own company – although nuclear popsicle sticks aren’t in her line.

She brings assets to the table. First, there’s her own intellect, which is formidable. Then, there’s her bio-technical background and her extensive experience negotiating the tangle of legal, patent-related, and fund-raising obstacles that can stall even brilliant ideas.

Better still, she nurtures an abiding respect for the human creative impulse – even in its somewhat off-the-wall incarnations.

“There is a bit of a phenotype,” she said, smilingly reverting to biological gene-speak.

“Extremely dedicated, driven kinds of people – 60 things going at once. But the successful ones I’ve worked with understand their limitations.”

In 13 years at UTI, Sheridan came face to face with the smokeless ciggy and the horseradish-based arthritis goo.

However, most of UTI’s successes have had their genesis in a U of C research lab.

With Technology NOW, Sheridan has added a new teaching component. Her company has signed a deal with PeopleInteractive Learning Network Inc.

Together, they offer real-time, online workshops which deal with product commercialization, licensing, business management and start-up.

Wearing her professorial mortarboard, she was happy to lay free advice on innovative lab-rats who haven’t a clue how to bring their baby to market.

“Often it means finding a licencee, a company in (a related) business, and convincing them to take a licence for the product, finish development and market it,” she said.

To her credit, the Technology NOW prez refuses to foster false hopes about even a clever invention’s commercial chances. Believe the MSc. when she says she’s done the math.

“I think the number’s about a two-per-cent success rate.”

If you still feel lucky and want to buck the odds, you’ve got to:

* Face Facts: “It can be fabulous technology. But that itself is only a very small part of getting it from discovery point to an actual product. There are so many things that happen, so many things that can go wrong. In some cases, you just need luck.”

* Time your breakout: “The market has to want it, has to understand it needs the product. If you’re too early, or too late, it doesn’t happen.”

* Front-end load: “A little money spent on the front end will save grief down the road. If you’re incorporating, get a good lawyer who understands your company’s needs.”

* Get patient: “How the heck do we keep the technologies alive and developing until the market catches up? Companies run out of money. You have to hang on until the market’s right.”

* Get patents: “Shop around, there are lots of good patent lawyers around.

Particularly in the high-tech area, a patent may be the only asset you have.”

* Count beans: “This is absolutely critical, because so many companies get into trouble because they don’t know how to manage their money.”

Besides, you’ll need it for those patents – depending on the product and whether you’re targeting international markets, the patenting process can cost from less than $5,000 to several hundred thousand dollars.

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