fires ignite to bring tech babies to market
NOW helps commercialize innovation
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 –
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.
it happens, especially if the innovator in question
has an angel in his pocket, or a well-informed
consultant to ride shotgun.
MacDougal, Business Edge
Sheridan's company helps commercialize promising
This preamble will serve to introduce Beverley
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
“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
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
If you still feel lucky and want to buck the odds, you’ve
* 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
* 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
Keyser can be reached at:
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