Imagine that you are a digital health app developer and you want to bring your idea to market. There is a new method that saves years from potentially going down the wrong path that offers a “lean” playbook for commercialization.
It used to be that there was a gulf between innovative technology and the ability to transform your idea into a business. All too often in the past, the talents required for technology readiness didn’t marry with methods for reaching customers, so inventions that could bring tremendous value remained bottled up, unable to hit the market.
Technology Readiness Is Not the Same as Investment Readiness
The history of R&D separated two mindsets, applying the mental model akin to the Department of Defense’s “Technology Readiness Level” (TRL) in one side of the shop, where inventors, scientists, and technologists concentrated on making sure the invention did what it promised. That methodology is mission-critical for the technical part of the invention process where quality matters—so important that the TRL system was adopted by NASA to assess the progress of a given technology from basic knowledge to feasibility to technology demonstration all the way to launch.
The same TRL type of system for scrutinizing business ideas that become consumer products, digital health apps, new lines of business for healthcare providers and even line extensions for existing large enterprise products needs to be in place—whatever the product promises to deliver needs to live up to its claims.
However, making sure a product does what it says it will do is only the first step toward a successful business launch. It’s what you do to surround a great technology with a go to market plan that is the difference between an idea that lies dormant and a market success.
In traditional business thinking, TRLs would be married with business plans, full of projections and research about a potential customer for the product. A large healthcare provider, for example, would look at a technology and project how customers might respond and create financial projections and theoretical ideas before the concept even saw the light of day.
If your health app is better suited to the world of the entrepreneur—you might dress yourself up for a pitch contest and circulate your demo to a series of investors, hoping to win the beauty contest and get funding to go to market.
Secret Revealed: The Lean Approach to Commercialization Saves Years
There is an alternative approach based on the lean innovation principles that were highlighted in a recent Harvard Business Review article and that form the foundation of the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program: the lean launchpad method. The central beliefs of the lean approach to business creation are as follows:
- Uncover the true needs of the market early on. No business plan survives its first exposure to customers. Introduce customer discovery from the beginning of the process.
- Replace traditional financial projections with a new tool: the business model canvas (introduced by Alexander Osterwalder in his book Business Model Generation) to map the dynamics of the market.
- Engage in a series of small experiments to test ideas before bringing them to scale.
- Marry the genius of the laboratory with the rigor of getting out of the building.
To date, more than 6000 teams including teams in the NSF I-Corps, university research teams, and innovators at large companies have tested 180,000 hypotheses with hundreds of thousands of customers before they launch. According to Dr. Hobart Harris—head of surgery at UCSF and the leader of the team at Vitruvian that followed these lean principles, “The lean approach saved two years from potentially going down the wrong path.”