From Research Lab to Global Markets: Lessons Learned from a Recovering CEO
I established Nexusist in 2013 after departing the Obama Administration. Our mission then, as it is now, is helping promising federally funded R&D / S&T realize its potential in the commercial world, including both industrial or consumer markets.
In 2013, Nexusist performed due diligence on several technologies with an initial bias for food and food security, including rapid food borne pathogen detection, food borne pathogen mitigation and novel food packaging and preservation technologies.
My excitement for one of those technologies prompted me to take a hiatus from Nexusist to commercialize microwave assisted thermal sterilization or MATS – which was developed as a federally funded R&D project at Washington State University (WSU). I co-founded 915 Labs to harness the MATS technology to create systemic change in the way food is preserved, packaged and distributed around the world. MATS offers the potential to reduce waste, improve consumer health and increase sustainability within the global food ecosystem by offering a better, healthier way to package food for the shelf.
My four-year journey as CEO of 915 Labs provided valuable hands-on experience in tech transfer and commercialization. These insights, combined with my decades of experience as an entrepreneur in the private sector and as a member of the Obama administration, have informed the commercialization framework at Nexusist.
Key takeaways from my leadership experience include:
Monetization comes in many ways — initially through professional consulting services and technology sales and ultimately through shared service models.
Capital structures range from private and public non-dilutive grants to convertible debt and equity from a multitude of sources, including venture capital, corporations with strategic interest and family offices. A careful balance is often a driver for the future trajectory of the company.
Board governance is critical, particularly with strategic investors. To avoid conflicts of interest, it is necessary delineate board and customer roles. The addition of a non-shareholder advisor board may be extremely helpful.
Intellectual property portfolio expansion beyond initial university and applied research lab patents is vital.
Company messaging needs to move quickly from trade and scientific journals to mainstream press to raise awareness.
More specifically to 915 Labs, several critical factors laid the foundation for successful commercialization:
WSU engaged industry during the R&D phase of MATS, which helped pave the way for the future adoption of the technology.
Maintaining the partnership between WSU and 915 Labs well beyond the initial tech transfer was highly beneficial. Our company supported the university’s efforts to acquire new grants and participated in technology ‘boot camps,’ both of which were great ways to keep new innovation flowing.
915 Labs established an early supply chain that included partners who could provide early-stage prototyping and first-generation commercial products. For future growth and global support, a roadmap and new relationships were necessary to build systems ‘at scale.’
We took a tailored approach to global markets: In the US, consumer packaged good (CPG) trends, consumer preferences and e-commerce dynamics drove our monetization strategy while in Asia, the region’s immature chill-chain was a primary driver.
As a ‘recovering’ CEO in the federally funded R&D commercialization realm, I find the next challenge even more exhilarating. I look forward to applying these lessons to newly developed technologies ready to exit the research lab — and working shoulder-to-shoulder with the tech transfer professionals, entrepreneurs and other commercial entities to bring them to market.