The journey to commercialisation – the challenges

SmartKem Technology

Steve Marsh is SmartKem’s Chief Business Officer. He has been instrumental in the signing of numerous JDAs and LOIs with Asian display manufacturers during recent months and plays a crucial role in managing these collaborative relationships throughout the lifetime of the projects.

Here, Steve provides an insight into some of the challenges commercialisation can present to businesses, particularly those operating in the tech arena and smaller enterprises.

What are the main challenges/obstacles to the successful commercialisation of advanced technology?

Persuading people to move away from the technologies that they know and have been brought up with. It is essentially about asking companies and investors to take a chance and risk their reputation and money on something new to the market.

It is also difficult for small companies to breakthrough into the sector. There are some real giants in the tech industry so any new technology or product must be something fantastic in order to stand out from the crowd.

Do you think these challenges are different to any other sector, if so why? 

For SmartKem, where we are developing the technology and science that will enable flexible displays for mobile and wearable applications, the challenge for us is that there is an element of fashion in what we are seeking to achieve. Combining technology and fashion isn’t an obvious amalgamation but that is what is unique to developing technology – discovering the potential and wide variety of applications it can serve.

What are some of the key considerations high-tech companies should bear in mind during technology commercialisation?

There is often a temptation to rush the development of a technology to put it out into the market place. This can often lead to failure before commercialisation has really got off the ground or the result is a technology that doesn’t function well and doesn’t perform to the level anticipated.

It is also important to ensure commercialisation is heading in the right direction for the future success of the business. It can be easy to lose sight of the original objectives and vision if there is pressure from investors or partners to rush things or unrealistic expectations are placed on a company.

How should companies choose the right commercialisation partner?

Look for a partner that has the expertise you require to be successful and ensure that they fully understand the technology so that they can add value to the process.

Any partnership should be mutually beneficial so ensure that they can bring something to the party too – whether that be technological capability or financial support.

Another important point to make is to ensure that everyone knows what their role is within the partnership from the beginning. This way some of the pitfalls mentioned previously can be avoided.

What are your top 3 tips for a successful commercialisation programme?

Choose the right partner.

Keep targets realistic.

Ensure validation of opportunity – continually re-evaluate the industry and ensure you understand the market demands you are operating in.

What are some of the mistakes business are likely to make in the process?

Overpromising and trying to achieve things too quickly.

What do you think can be done to bridge the gap between research and industry? E.g. more facilities like Centre for Process Innovation (CPI)?

Such facilities are vital for technological and scientific innovation and we are fortunate to have the CPI in the UK. I do believe that China will become the new trend for the location of such facilities in the future, simply to speed up the process between research and development. China will become the dominant manufacturing force in flexible display manufacturing thanks to significant government investment. As a result, within the next five years, I think a Chinese value chain will be fully established and many of the current manufacturing and quality challenges faced by display makers with OLED and flexible OLED resolved.

How important are investors to commercialisation?

Very important! It’s almost impossible to achieve without them. A good point here is to ensure the role they are going to play in the journey is established and set out from the beginning, like with choosing a commercialisation partner. This will provide for a successful, productive relationship.

Some companies find it useful to have investors involved in the whole process whilst others prefer to have them in the background, dealing with the financial progress only.