A Pre-Seed Workshop for High-Tech Ideas That Think They May Want to Become Start-Up Companies

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Accelerating the Transformation of Laboratory Research into Local Company Formation

The University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology, two major research institutions in the Rochester region, have come together, along with over a dozen community resources, to accelerate the transformation of laboratory research into local company formation. The mechanism is a Pre-Seed Workshop, to be held September 13, 14, and 23 at the historic Powers Building downtown. The workshop is designed primarily for university professors and students who are involved in technology development that could potentially form the foundation of a new high tech business. The workshop will take six high-tech business “ideas” from the two campuses and move them from concept stage to the point where they may be considered “pre-seed” companies. The overall goals of the workshop are to determine the extent to which each idea is of commercial merit, test the teams’ start-up fortitude, and organize the idea to move forward.

The delivery format will be unique to Rochester. The pilot is being organized as 20% lecture and 80% hands-on working sessions. The overall feel is intended to be high-energy, fast-paced, and motivational, with a slight competitive flair. Each team will consist of a professor or technology champion with “the idea”, possibly a post-doc or graduate student, an undergraduate or two, and an MBA candidate. They will be aligned with a known start-up coach from the area who will assist them during the workshop.

The teams will address the twenty most fundamental questions that must be considered before starting up a company. Questions will be answered in a series of eight break-out sessions related to the technology, the market, the competition, the business potential, etc. Participants create a number of deliverables (tables, charts, slides) during these break-out sessions which constitute the foundation of a 15 minute presentation that they deliver on the final day before a panel of experts. These experts then provide feedback on the merit of the opportunity.

Organizers and sponsoring institutions include Mark Coburn (Director, Office of Technology Transfer, University of Rochester, River Campus), Varda Main (Director, Technology Licensing Office, Rochester Institute of Technology), Mark Wilson (Principal, Initiatives consulting), Judy Albers (Vice President, Trillium Group), Paul Wetenhall (Executive Director, High Tech Rochester), Jim Senall (Managing Director, Greater Rochester Enterprise), and Montieth Estes (Attorney, Boylan Brown). Support is also being provided by the Eldredge, Fox, Perretti Group, University of Rochester College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering, University of Rochester Simon School of Business, and RIT College of Business. M&T Bank is hosting the workshop in their office spaces within the Powers Building and SB Ashley and Associates, managers of the Powers Building, are providing office furnishings and several meals.

As Rochester transitions from being a big company town to a high tech hub in such areas as photonics, biotech, and fuel cells, the community is building a new infrastructure to support high tech startups. There are newly budding investor forums, business plan competitions, high-tech incubators, venture funds, and angel investor organizations which need an increasing pool of quality applicants. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars are invested annually in research and development at our universities. This pilot workshop, which has hopes of growing into an ongoing event, is designed as a first bridge between the two.

Rochester’s universities may have latent high-tech ideas that aren’t being commercialized because the area’s assistance for the concept/pre-seed stage is limited. High-tech, pre-seed teams need hands-on working time with commercialization experts to move an idea out of the starting blocks. The Pre-Seed Workshop is specifically designed to provide the region with an efficient way to give large numbers of high tech ideas a solid entrée into the pre-seed stage and vet ideas that possibly shouldn’t go forward. Ultimately, sponsoring organizations are hoping that this mechanism will spur the formation of new companies, provide additional revenues to the area, and create jobs.

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Mark Wilson
Initiatives Consulting
(585) 482-5524
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