“He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.” – Sun Tzu
OK, I admit it’s a dramatic quote for a blog post but Sun Tzu knows what he’s talking about. As licensing professionals figuring out whether to bring in that next molecule, serial entrepreneurs figuring out what company to dive into next, or CEOs re-prioritizing their R&D portfolio, we are asked daily to determine whether we want to push forward on something or move on to that next battle. While the context and level of detail can vary, there is a core set of questions that disciplined decision makers should ask themselves as they go through the process:
1) Is there really a problem? We all have examples of companies that had a platform they threw at every disease for which they could fund clinical trials. But time needs to be spent ensuring that there’s an actual problem to be solved and that there is a significant need to identify a solution. This involves not just understanding the market size, but also whether the problem is significant enough and current solutions are inadequate enough to attract customers. Secondary market research is a good start, but here’s where tapping on your medical colleagues or friends who may have first-hand familiarity with a disease is useful to gut-check your thinking.
2) Am I looking at a good solution? It seems obvious that a “good” solution will have a reasonable shot at addressing the problem you just described. But it’s not always that straightforward. For example, if a novel cancer biologic increases overall survival but also causes significant emesis, is that a good solution? This is where it is critical to not just understand the total market size but also customer perception of the problem and the overall competitive landscape.
3) Is there a business here? Now’s the time to use your (or your friend’s) MBA and figure out whether this is a commercially viable business. This includes taking a look at your potential customers, your pricing strategy and whether you can make your widget in an efficient manner. It’s easiest to equate business with revenue but that’s not always the case. The Science Center, for example, is a non-profit that helps entrepreneurs commercialize their ideas via our programming and network. “Business” for us is not dollars but rather entrepreneurs helped, companies started, jobs created and economic impact in the Greater Philadelphia region.
4) Are we the right people to go after this opportunity? In the ideal scenario, you have a significant problem with an effective solution and a solid business model. Even then, you or your company may not be the optimal choice to pursue it. You also need the right capabilities in the form of human and capital resources and, perhaps most importantly, passion. If a founder feels so strongly about their idea that their passion is tangible, investors and customers can’t help but believe. Check out one of my favorite podcasts, The Pitch, where you don’t even have to see the entrepreneur making their pitch to VCs. Just listening is enough to “see” that they’re passionate about what they’re trying to create.
Rachel Cervantes is VP Corporate Development at the University City Science, a mission-based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping innovators and entrepreneurs bring world-changing technologies to market.