How Entrepreneurs Can Find and Act on Business Opportunity
This guide will help prepare entrepreneurs with insights into how to recognize whether or not an idea or technology is one that can be turned into a viable and sustainable business venture.
The fundamental reason that a new company is formed is to take advantage of an opportunity.
As a would-be entrepreneur, you need to understand how to think about business opportunities created by new technologies, where they come from, and how to spot them.
Businesses most often think of an opportunity as a problem that meets a solution.
The customer has a real problem, and the company creates value for the customer with a solution that solves the problem.
The classic definition of opportunity includes a solution that is attractive and interesting, is durable over time, and solves the problem now, not in the future.
Examples of Business Opportunity:
Odor Trace’s solution was to create a portable training aid that safely and securely allows K9 dogs to practice detecting homemade bombs using technology developed by the Naval Research Laboratory.
The opportunity that Odor Trace identified was immediate and feasible. Terrorists were increasingly using homemade bombs, but law enforcement and security firms typically train their K9 dogs on conventional explosives in part because training with homemade explosives is dangerous.
Seeing the ‘Window of Opportunity’
Entering a new market may not make business sense. Entrepreneurs need to assess whether the “window of opportunity” is open for them to enter a new market.
Contrary to the urge to stake out an early position in an identified business opportunity, being too early might be as bad as being too late in a new market.
In 1998, Google entered the Internet search market with new technology and quickly surpassed established companies including Yahoo, which was one of the first Internet search engine companies.
Google has since matured the market and blocked others (e.g., Microsoft’s Bing) from entering it through continuous innovation and brand recognition.
Entrepreneurs should acknowledge that an idea is very different than an opportunity.
While exciting, not all ideas will meet the criteria for a business opportunity. The feasibility of an idea is often the difference between a successful and a failed entrepreneur, not because one worked harder than the other, but because no real opportunity existed when the venture began.
Ideas should be reflected on and opportunities tested. And entrepreneurs should know that ideas may not be opportunities because there is no market need, customers are not dissatisfied with existing products and services, customer loyalty is strong, and customers may be hard to reach, or have high “switching costs” associated with choosing your product or service.
When a defense laboratory creates a new technology, entrepreneurs can create new products with it soon after.
TechLink, the Department of Defense’s national partnership intermediary, maintains a database of thousands of new technologies invented in DoD labs.
Advances in technology provide opportunities to address customer needs with better, more convenient solutions.
When a defense laboratory creates a new technology, businesses can create new products with it soon after.
After the technology-driven business opportunity has been identified, entrepreneurs will need to obtain the rights to make and sell the invention.
A patent license agreement commonly facilitates technology transfer from a federal laboratory to an entrepreneur or business.
For example, a small company in Nevada identified an opportunity created by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).
AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate invented an alternative rocket fuel to hydrazine, a dangerous carcinogen used to power satellites and spacecraft.
The small business, Digital Solid State Propulsion, negotiated a patent license agreement for the Air Force’s fuel formula.
Under the patent license agreement, the Nevada company has the intellectual property rights to make and sell the fuel to the fast-growing commercial spaceflight and satellite industries and has already filled orders for NASA and the Air Force.
Find your opportunity
To identify opportunities created by new technologies, start by searching TechLink’s online database of over 5,000 available technologies.
The database is keyword searchable, but there are also buttons that allow you to search the technologies by 11 technology areas, e.g., medical, materials, software, or by the laboratory.
You’ll also see filters labeled summaries, patents, and express licensing.
By clicking the summary filter, you will see technologies that TechLink has dived a bit deeper into, often by interviewing the inventor.
These summaries contain more information that is helpful to understand what problems the technology can solve.
Most entrepreneurs develop good ideas in fields they know. Brainstorming can quickly lead to a list of ideas and problems that the technologies may address. Entrepreneurs can evaluate their brainstorming ideas by asking questions:
- Is there a real customer problem here?
- Will people pay to solve this problem?
- Does the technology offer a reasonable solution?
- Does the technology create customer value?
Once you have identified a viable business opportunity with available technology, there are several paths that you can take to licensing the technology.
TechLink is here to help
As the Department of Defense’s national partnership intermediary in technology transfer, TechLink’s staff are experienced in helping entrepreneurs access federal technology and create partnerships with DoD labs.
Many of TechLink’s staff hold advanced degrees and are certified licensing professionals who help facilitate over 60 percent of all license agreements between businesses and the Department of Defense.
And remember that TechLink is a non-profit organization, funded by the DoD, which does not charge for its services.
The contact information for a technology manager is included alongside each technology in the database. So, start your technology search now and good luck finding a business opportunity!