Following our first field report about research commercialisation, our team now got the chance to speak to Phillipp Haessler, a Consultant at Monitor Deloitte Germany, currently doing his PhD in Technology commercialisation at the University of Stuttgart in Germany. Phillipp previously worked as a Technology Scout at the Department of Knowledge and Technology Transfer at the University of Stuttgart.
Given his expertise in this area, we were happy to have the opportunity to ask Phillipp a few questions about his experience related to technology commercialisation. Here’s what we learned:
- We’d like to hear more about your line of research. What do you hope to uncover about the commercialisation of emerging technologies?
In my PhD, I look at commercialization pathways from the technology perspective. What I mean with that is: current research predominantly looks at commercialization from the firm perspective, i.e., what can a firm or entity do in order to bring technologies to the market? While studies focus on different technologies in that regard to determine success factors, etc. I want to draw conclusions from the technology perspective. In particular, I am interested in unearthing why a certain technology follows a specific path while another follows a different path towards commercialisation. Our theory is that there are specific technology differences (in their characteristics) that contribute towards this phenomenon. In short, what characteristics did, for example, biotechnology have? And what were the differences to, let’s say, nanotechnology? And finally, what conclusions can we draw for novel emerging technologies, e.g. quantum computing. To that end, emerging technologies are interesting because there is little influence single companies have and early pathways are influenced by ecosystems, government and academia to a stronger degree.
- What was your main motivation for choosing the commercialisation of emerging technologies as the topic of your PhD?
Emerging technologies have the potential to transform entire economies or build unique competitive advantages across the global landscape. We have seen this with semiconductors in the US and Taiwan, we are seeing it with hydrogen. Same goes with conversational AI and the hype around ChatGPT, etc. Soon, we will likely see the same happening with quantum computing (if we are not already seeing it). This is all deeply fascinating to me and gives for interesting competitive dynamics but also interesting developments on the research side with governments and academia playing much larger roles in the overall trajectory of the commercialization process.
- In your recently published article, you mention the importance of the innovation ecosystem as a factor of emerging technologies commercialisation. In your view, what are the most important ways that this ecosystem influences the commercialisation process?
For emerging technologies the innovation ecosystem is one if not the most vital supportive element of the commercialization process. Especially in the early days of a new technology, close collaboration between different actors is needed. Not all ecosystems are built the same however. Ideally, the ecosystem consists of different players: a) government players that want to understand the new technology and the opportunities that are opened up; b) incumbents (e.g., industry) that look to monitor and strategically invest or enhance existing products, c) academia which are interested in understanding the nature of the technology but also want to innovate in accordance with ‘ecosystem interests’, d) startups that bring in the risk-affinite way of thinking to explore the boundaries of what is possible.
Depending on the stakeholders present and also the focus that the ecosystem has set itself, the ecosystem establishes an ‘identity’. Latecomers, startups, etc. then build up their progress around this ‘identity’. Consequently, a too narrow ‘identity’ might actually hinder quick progress and another ecosystem (possibly somewhere else in the world) might win out. On the other hand, focusing on a collaborative build up of the ecosystems ensures innovative ideas to foster.
- Considering your experience in technology transfer, what do you identify as the top challenges when transferring emerging technologies into the market?
I think it is always a matter of where you are coming from. For example, during my time at the University of Stuttgart it was always about the maturity of the technology and no alignment between companies that would take the technology further and academia. Incumbents would need to invest significant time and money to bring the technology towards commercialization, usually this was too much effort for them to justify the investment. Consequently, scientists would need to bridge that gap themselves which is also usually not aligned with academia priorities.
In more general terms, this diverges geographically. In Germany, I think it is the risk appetite from incumbents, which might stem from short-term thinking and lack of willingness to pay for immature technologies by customers, little incentive to bring technologies further than needed in research as well as the overall lower funding availability for startups on a relative level. In other parts of the world, this can vary significantly. There also is a large difference in technology focus. For example, Germany focusses significantly on hydrogen, while they are followers in chips, AI, etc.
- How do you envision that collaboration, between industry and academia specifically, can support the development of such emerging technologies?
I think that both sides need to understand the goals of their counterparty. Technology transfer from academia to industry is, in my eyes, a partnership rather than a transactional process. Universities should be willing to go this step and set up the corresponding formats. On the other hand, industry should reach out their hand, show their willingness for collaboration and adequate compensation of university work, whether that may be joint projects or monetary compensation.
- What advice would you give to those looking to develop and commercialise innovative technologies?
Don’t be afraid to take risks and try new things, whether it’s pushing a patent for licensing or launching a startup that capitalises on new technology. It’s not always easy, and the road can be long, but every step you take helps shape the way things are done. Remember, there are people out there who believe in you and are willing to help, so don’t be afraid to ask for support along the way.
- Do you think initiatives such as Venture Alliances could be effective to generate emerging technologies with better commercialisation prospects? Why?
In order to address the challenge at hand, it’s crucial to establish a common ground among all parties involved. I envision Venture Alliances as a mediator between stakeholders. By facilitating closer collaboration, these intermediaries can help bridge any gaps and create a more mutually beneficial relationship. To ensure success, it’s important to take into account the needs and desires of all parties involved, and find a way to strike a balance that satisfies everyone.