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Idea Machines

Jun 2, 2019

In this episode I talk to Errol Arkilic about different systems involved in turning research into companies.

Errol has been helping research make the jump from the lab to the market for more than fifteen years: he was a program manager at the National Science Foundation or NSF, Small Business Innovation Research or SBIR program, where he awarded grants to hundreds of companies commercializing research. He started the NSF Innovation Corps, a program that gives researchers the tools they need to make the transition to running a successful business. Currently he is a partner at M34 capital where he focuses exclusively on projects that are being spun out of labs. Seeing the often rocky tech transition from so many sides has given him a nuanced view of the whole system.

Key Takeaways

  • While there are some best practices around commercializing research, like business model canvases, many pieces like assembling a team and finding complementary technologies are still completely bespoke.
  • The commercial value of research is a tricky thing. Some is valuable, but not quite valuable enough to form an organization around. Other research could be incredibly valuable if the world were in a slightly different state. Different approaches are needed in each situation.
  • The mental model of MIST vs TIMS - market in search of technology and technology in search of market.


M34 Capital

The SBIR Program

Business Model Canvases

Errol on How the NSF Works

Pasteur's Quadrant

NSF Innovation Corps


What is the pathway to commercialization

How do you have an iterative process when people don't know what they want

What do the best researchers do to pull out core problems to work on?

How do you address the tension of people wanting to apply their hammers?

What are examples of people who have applied very specific technologies?

How do you assemble a team around a technology?

How do you systemitize assembling teams?

How do you systemitize finding technologies that can plug a technological hole?

What do you think about patents?

Patents, trade screts,

Technology that isn't venture fundable

Valuable ideas that aren't valuable enough to pursue

Systemitizing finding whether value could be harvested

Where is the role of SBIRs in today's world

SBIR decision making process

Lengendary SBIR successes

Push vs. Pull out of lab

How do you find MIST projects

Are there labs in unintuitive programs

Next steps outside of local ecosystems?

Does any new innovation need a champion?

What should people be thinking about that they're not?