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Cracking the Code for Software Commercialization

photo of students on a couch

The phone started ringing long before the press releases went out. When universities across the country got word of what was happening at the University of Utah with Summit Venture Studio, it didn’t take long to generate excitement.

What was all the buzz about? Experienced software entrepreneurs, in collaboration with PIVOT Center at the University of Utah, had figured out how to overcome the challenges of developing, launching and scaling software startups at a university. This new enterprise for accelerating the go-to-market process in a university setting was an industry first.

Increasing success, decreasing risk.

“We have so many new, high-potential software products and features that have been developed by the amazing researchers at the university,” says Peter Djokovich, who founded Summit Venture Studio with Taylor Bench. Using some of the millions of dollars in research funding the university receives, they’ve invented products as varied as automated clinical trial consent software that significantly reduces launch time to AI platforms that optimize prescriptive data analysis.

“But while inventors have their specific product or subject expertise, they often don’t have the tools, experience and network to turn their ideas into actual businesses,” Djokovich adds. “And it’s rare to succeed without those resources.”

That’s the big challenge facing university innovators. To find success, you have to be best to market and fast to market, both of which require an entire infrastructure of support – including innovation management, product development, market validation and investor backing.

Djokovich says there’s a science to the process of building and scaling a business. And scaling is especially important. To succeed quickly, you need experience. “It’s often the ‘how’ more than the ‘what’ that makes a company successful.”

To find that better “how,” Bench and Djokovich integrated the best from both of their different backgrounds – Bench’s deep experience in discovering and validating software inside universities, plus Djokovich’s successful private-sector commercialization model, customized for a university setting. This combination created a process for getting ideas and innovations to market that’s not just faster, it’s often years faster. And there are few, if any, programs like it nationwide.

“The studio develops and transforms high potential ideas into proven, battle-tested and market-ready product offerings that reduce risk for industry-exit partners,” explains Bench.

Faster to market. And ROI.

Many innovators think they have to find that singular idea. Or, to use one of Bench’s analogies, that grand slam, unicorn invention. But the studio uses a model that allows them to also focus and devote resources to the singles, doubles and triples that, in baseball, score the runs and win the games. At the studio, these consistent “base hits” are the new product lines in already established markets or new features in a popular product. These kinds of innovations enhance ROI and reduce investor risk.

“Often, a $1 million to $3 million revenue business is very lucrative from a profit and return on investment perspective – versus a $100 million business,” says Bench. “If you develop a technology that can be added to an existing product that already has thousands of customers, the profits are high and the risk is low.” And that’s key. Software can be very speculative, expensive to develop and take too long to get to market. And it may never hit the scale you want – making software development uniquely risky. But if you can get an idea into the marketplace rapidly, and get real customers to pay for it, it’s a safer investment.

One of the key advantages with the studio is that they’re not doing things in a linear fashion. They’re looking at multiple projects at once and using a range of shared services, processes and platforms they can replicate instead of reinventing the wheel for each new idea. And that gets them to market much faster.

The place for unparalleled partnership.

Bench and Djokovich say the key to making the Studio/PIVOT Center collaboration happen – and to its ongoing success – is the unwavering, top-down support from the university administration and board of trustees.

They also credit the innovation community at the University of Utah and in Salt Lake City, and the investor network of the PIVOT Center. “We’re building a community and connecting people, and showing the world the value of the industry expertise that is held at the U,” says Bench.

Djokovich agrees. “The amount of creativity here is far beyond anything I could find myself in my searches. The support for PIVOT Center is very innovative and always has been.”

The ideas are here. The industry expertise is here. And the support and investor infrastructure are here. Few, if any, other universities have that complete combination for software commercialization. “If there ever was a place to start this, this is it,” adds Djokovich.

To learn more about this innovative go-to-market process, visit Summit Venture Studio

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