The Wisconsin Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC) hosted an educational open forum event November 2nd at the UW-Milwaukee Innovation Accelerator in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.
The event was an opportunity for CTC, local businesses and entrepreneurs to understand business and technology challenges and barriers to entry. This understanding allows CTC to become more informed strategic advisors for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding.
CTC has been working in a partnership with the Wisconsin Air Nation Guard over the last year to encourage local business and researchers to utilize Department of Defense (DOD) innovation funding. Some of the lessons learned from this partnership sparked discussions for this event.
“What we learned out of that DOD work last year,” said Dr. Idella Yamben, CTC Director. “Was that there’s a real interest in these smart data solutions, artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain and more.”
This need for AI, ML and other highly technical innovation creates a challenge in communicating new technologies not only to the end user, but also when applying for funding. Yamben quoted an SBIR Air Force consultant who expressed that one and zero solutions are very difficult to convey to reviewers. This specific barrier is one CTC hopes to improve through strategic assistance.
Israel Squires, Managing Partner at Midpoint Ventures, discussed a range of challenges including leveraging a company’s decision to implement or pilot new technologies and the risks and costs associated with that. He also touched on AI/ML push-back and strategies and techniques for entrepreneurs to effectively communicate their ideas.
“Are the system AND the people ready for integration?” said Squires. “For example, the surgeons, radiologists, etc. Are their workflow systems ready for the disruption through artificial intelligence? Generally, not yet, but they’re getting there. The research is there, the workflow from research to product to potential start up is still being worked on.”
An event participant mentioned that he had developed a technology that companies want and need but would cause workers to lose their jobs. Squires discussed that this is a common problem, and an effective solution would be to suggest up-skilling workers instead of replacing them.
The event closed by continuing to focus on information and resources available to small businesses as well as insight and assistance that CTC could provide.
“Agencies are updating their needs to fit mostly two categories: use inspired, and dual use.” said Yamben. “Agencies are looking for solutions-driven research that’s designed to accelerate adoption. Really focusing on metrics, milestones, activities and partnerships that are showcasing more than technology and product use.”
“It is important for small businesses and programs part of the technical ecosystem to work together to move away from focusing on just submission to innovation as well as making it very applicable to what the market needs in an 18–36-month time-frame.”
Throughout the event strategic partnerships were a common solution to many of the challenges. One of the many purposes of CTC’s event was to start an open discussion on how to improve communication and partnerships and create an environment in which organizations work together instead of in competition.
This event’s conversation will continue at CTC’s next event in February, focusing on technology’s role in cybersecurity.