Friday, October 25, 2013

Greg Leman Talks about the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative

Where are you from originally?

I am a Midwest guy.  Grew up in NE Indiana

What university did you go to?

Studied Chemical Engineering at Purdue University, and after working a few years at Dow Chemical, went to grad school at University of Illinois, Urbana campus where I earned a masters and PhD in Chem E as well.

What brought you to Austin?

The opportunity to leverage what I learned over 25 years in research, product development and business leadership to create a new program in Technology Entrepreneurship at Baylor University brought me to central Texas.   I quickly became connected to IC2 Fellows at Baylor  and others who introduced me to the Austin community of tech business innovation.

What is your group’s mission?

Enable accelerated commercialization of things that matter.  In our view this is possible only when we focus on both the innovation and the innovator – sustainable positive impact through tech ventures demands development of leadership as well as technologies.

What need does it fulfill?

As Baylor emerges as a much more research-focused institution, the local need is for easy-to-utilize commercialization pathways that help these research insights to make a manifest difference in society.  More broadly, we are responding to the need for new companies and the SME segment of the commercial world to drive economic growth and create jobs.

What exactly does it bring to startups?

Since we are an accelerator, our key deliverable is commercialization process coaching.  The processes we have developed have proven to be successful in taking ventures to their next key milestone at a 75% rate.  For startups the next major milestone is usually funding the next phase.  In our system most of these startups achieve that funding by a reformulating their plans, which happens as they gain deeper insight into the opportunity set (often significantly altering their prioritized path forward to reach cash positive state more quickly) and also by doing a much better job communicating a compelling value proposition.  Further, we find that teams that have been through our highly iterative process gain such a comprehensive understanding of how all the pieces of their plan depend on each other that when reality happens and they need to reformulate on the fly, they can do so quickly and knowledgably.  We teach them how to skillfully pivot.

What type of startup would benefit from your group?

Pre-funded startups will benefit greatly because we accelerate their path to clear, executable strategy that delivers on proven customer needs.  These teams often have a macro-level understanding of how their technology could solve an important problem, but are very weak on the details of that need, how various customers will find solutions to it and thus what business model will enable a profitable solution delivery system. 
Startups with a successful launch behind them with revenues from their initial target customers in place will benefit by using our process to investigate, prioritize and execute on growth in adjacent opportunities.  By aligning operational, financial, product development and strategic implications for each choice or series of targets, these startups typically discover better rollout options than they had in mind, and gain insight into the talent acquisition challenges they will have over time, allowing them to solve problems proactively.

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up the initiative?
We ourselves are in effect a startup – The BRIC just opened its doors in January of this year, and Baylor has never before had a tech biz accelerator in place.  On the other hand, we are drawing on the experience of a senior coaching team and an acceleration process that team has developed over the past 7 years.  This process created a highly experiential learning environment that mixed venture-teams with student-analysts, so we in fact have a well-proven product.  Still, branding and market awareness have been two of our biggest challenges.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

Commit deeply to your purpose  - your intent to “make meaning,” as Guy Kawasaki described it.  Then, you will be better at focusing on the things that keep you on your path, rather than on just any chance to turn a buck and survive another day.  Conversely, be much more flexible in the details of how you will create that meaning, and work much harder than you think you have to, so that you can truly understand what customers, investors, and other stakeholders can teach you about the process.

What Austin-based resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?
The network.  Every time I have needed to add to our team or gain insight into a particular issue, it seems I end up tapping folks who either are or have been part of the Austin venture scene.