Marketing Lessons for Academic-Entrepreneur Researchers

Academic entrepreneurs are successful in developing research, but they often fall short of the goal of attaining commercial success.

“… most academic researchers are not versed in product development, intellectual property, market analysis and other core business practices that are vital to successfully commercializing breakthrough science,” writes Professor M. Cynthia Goh in the Department of Chemistry at University of Toronto.

“Once an academic group comes up with a viable innovation, it’s vital to protect the researchers’ intellectual property (IP) as they move toward commercialization,” writes the professor.

somkku9 scientistProfessor’s caveat

“However, we’ve found that many government programs, funding agencies and other commercialization support programs focus excessively on obtaining patents,” Professor Goh explains. “They tend to ignore the fact that any IP strategy must be tailored to the specific technology, company and industry.”

She explains the conundrum in failing to use basic marketing strategies.

“If a more established competitor – with its financial resources, sales networks and suppliers – is able to easily copy the new products and leapfrog years of research, then the new start-up will find it very challenging to succeed,” she writes.

She has received research funding from the Natural Science and Engineering Council (NSERC), the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, Vive Crop Protection and Axela. The Impact Centre obtains partial funding for its entrepreneurship activities from the Ontario Centres of Excellence.

Her theory was published in an article entitled, “Academic entrepreneurs’ intellectual property strategies should include more than only patents.” Scott McAuley, a Ph.D. candidate in Biochemistry at University of Toronto also contributed to it.

“Fundamentally, an IP strategy allows a technology company to profit from the knowledge, expertise and inventions it has created,” adds Professor Goh.


“One of the most important topics we cover when mentoring teams of researchers is how to protect their IP through practical strategies. The best solution for each group must be based on their own situation and leverage all of the available IP protection tools,” she asserts.

“One of the most important topics we cover when mentoring teams of researchers is how to protect their IP through practical strategies. The best solution for each group must be based on their own situation and leverage all of the available IP protection tools.”

She says there are different components:

  • trade secrets – where you don’t tell anyone how your product works and hope no one figures it out
  • trademarks – where you protect an identifying mark, such as a logo
  • patents – where you apply to the Patent Office and disclose your invention in exchange for a 20-year monopoly on the use of your invention. If you are successful and your patent is issued, you have to continue paying the Patent Office maintenance fees to ensure your patent remains valid.

She acknowledges the dilemmas associated with patents.

“Founders have to carefully weigh the costs and value of any component of an IP strategy,” she admits. “Factors to consider include legal fees, immediate and future payments owed to the Patent Office, time, impact on business strategy, ability to defend against infringement and the normal practices of the particular industry.”

Because of the expense and time in obtaining patents as well as the vulnerabilities suffered from public disclosure of proprietary information, there are disadvantages.

“This doesn’t have to be your automatic first stop,” she writes. “The necessity of a patent differs from case to case and industry to industry.”

Marketing lessons

She cites a study revealing that academic entrepreneurs could learn from dominant companies that use productive marketing strategies.

“However, we need to move beyond the misplaced idea that patents are the only viable method of IP protection,” she points out. She says relatively few innovators succeed with good strategy.

Certainly, though well-intentioned, academics could learn to be more practical.

“By encouraging a more nuanced vision of intellectual property along the commercialization pipeline, we can improve the flow of new knowledge and products from our academic institutions to the market,” concludes Professor Goh. “And we’ll all benefit sooner from groundbreaking research.”

My sense is Professor Goh is right. Marketing strategy is important for commercial success.

Furthermore, the unpredictability of powerful forces from rapidly evolving technology and changing global demographics make it more challenging than ever to create great strategy.

Strategy must be continually evaluated.  Trends need to be analyzed while threats need to be anticipated.

The right people need to be hired. Your human capital must understand your vision and the big picture. Your profits from revenue must be maximized and invested well for the future. And along the way,  tough choices must be made.

From the Coach’s Corner, related reading on strategy:

Strategy Not Working? You Need a Strategy to Execute Your Strategy — If a company develops a good strategy but it fails, we can draw a conclusion. Management dropped the ball. Well-worded strategies are nice. But they’re just a bunch of sentences until success is achieved.

Leadership Tips for Executing Strategy to Defeat Threats — Multiple solutions might work to triumph over a threat, but a global study in 20 sectors in 20 countries  shows execution trumps strategy. Here’s how leaders execute strategy.

A Marketing Strategy That Best Defends Your Company — What do I mean by the phrase, “A marketing strategy that best defends your company”? Protecting your assets with the right marketing strategy results in the shielding and enhancing of your brand, as well as protecting your customer base.

To Cope with Rising Costs, Review your Pricing Strategy — Increased costs weigh heavily on the bottom line. If you’re being pressured by costs, it’s probably time to review your pricing strategy.  You’re not alone. No business is immune from rising costs in fuel; rent or real estate; labor; health insurance and ObamaCare; marketing; and equipment. Lest not you forget all the taxes.

Strategies to Make Change Management Programs Work — Management is mostly to blame because most change-management programs crash and burn. Why? It’s up to management to hire the right people, and to invest in the right tools while inspiring employees to accept and drive change. Here’s how.

The best CEOs I know are teachers, and at the core of what they teach is strategy.”

-Michael Porter



Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

Photo courtesy of somkku9

Marketing Lessons from Poor-Performing Wealth-Investment Firms

If you are suffering from poor growth, join the throng of wealth-investment advisors who have the same dilemma. You can learn lessons from them. They know it’s time to get solutions.

The answers are probably available, if advisors query the attitudes of their clients. Hint: It’s all about branding to build trust as a financial partner.

Registered investment advisor (RIA) firms might want more clients, but 95 percent are lacking in marketing and business development.

Worse, 70 percent don’t even have a strategic plan to grow.

franky242These are some of the salient results of a 2014 study by Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services.

The study is entitled, “Firing on all cylinders: fueling growth with benchmarking insights.”

“Three-fourths of firms see improving their marketing and business development as a top strategic initiative, but they are struggling to make progress,” said David Canter in a press release.

He’s executive vice president and head of practice management and consulting at Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services.

The study’s key findings:

1. High-Performing Firms are focused on telling a consistent firm story, while half of RIA firms are still struggling to establish one.

Only 56 percent of all firms agree that they have a clearly defined and differentiated firm story, and only 43 percent agree their stories are tailored to the specific needs of target clients.

High-performing firms are 1.7 times more likely to tell a consistent firm story, with all client and prospect-facing associates describing their firm and its key differentiators in the same way.

As a result, high-performing firms are also more likely to agree that the majority of their clients know the fundamentals of their firm story, which can help clients become advocates for the firm.

2. While firms are making progress when it comes to targeting the right clients, high-performing firms are almost twice as likely to effectively communicate their target client profiles to help generate the right referrals.

Firms with a target client profile reported that 90 percent of new clients added in 2013 fit this description, compared to only 75 percent of clients on board prior to 2013.

High-performing firms are almost twice as likely to agree that they effectively describe their target client profiles to both clients and centers of influence (COI).

This may help clients and COI identify the most appropriate referrals, which may lead to a higher percentage of clients fitting target client profiles over time.

3. Few firms have an “advanced” referral process; high-performing firms are four times as likely to leverage COI referrals to the fullest.

Referrals from existing clients and centers of influence are important channels of growth for RIAs, accounting for 75 percent of all new clients.

However, less than one-third of firms rate their referral processes as advanced, or even fairly strong.

Only 14 percent agreed that they have analyzed their client base to focus on the clients most likely to make referrals.

High-performing firms are 4 times more likely to say their COI referral processes are advanced.

This includes activities such as always thanking sources for referrals and working to understand their centers of influences’ target client profiles so they can send reciprocal referrals.

In addition, they are more likely to review centers of influence data, such as referral status, at least monthly and keep data up to date.

4. High-performing firms have the talent and resources in place, while one-third of RIA firms are pursuing business development officers.

High-performing firms are approximately twice as likely to be pursuing strategic initiatives to develop talent-management plans or change firm compensation plans – signs that they may be managing talent more proactively.

They are also less likely to see lack of internal sales and marketing capabilities as an issue and, possibly as a result, are less likely to be hiring business development officers (81 percent not pursuing vs. 66 percent of other firms).

From the Coach’s Corner, here are related tips for growing your professional service firm:

Want a Wealthy Clientele? Lessons from Investment Firms – If you want a wealthy clientele, lessons from investment firms show you must focus on your relationship skills. Trust is a vital component to build relationships. For wealthy clients, you need to provide exclusivity, special client experiences with generosity and product quality.

11 Web Site Strategies to Grow Your Professional Service Firm – If you want to grow your professional-service firm, don’t ignore your most-visible marketing vehicle – your Web site. To retain and add clients to grow your practice, compelling thought leadership and other qualities that generate trust are key factors for your Web site. Of course, your treatment of clients should reflect exemplary client-service policies.

Tips for Building Long-Term Client Relationships with Effective Meetings – Signs you have good client relationships: They’ll thank you regularly, pay your invoices promptly, and will respond well to your recommendations. If you don’t have all three of these, here’s what to do.

6 Tips to Increase the Quality, Quantity of Your Client Referrals – As a professional, you can ease the pain and save time in making sales calls, if you’re a good steward of your already-existing circle of associates and clients – potential centers of influence. That’s a term that refers to people who can and will refer business your way.

“Finding good partners is the key to success in anything: in business, in marriage and, especially, in investing.”

-Robert Kiyosaki


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

Photo courtesy franky242 at

Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.