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Research enables us to build up and develop our knowledge of the world around us, and shapes the future through its capacity to lead to innovation. But the path between research discoveries and the uses to which they might eventually be put can be long, winding and complex.

If you’re planning to make the most of them (start-up, new product launch, etc.), you’ll need to identify very quickly the need that the innovation will really satisfy, the associated market, the competition (usually « the competition ») and the first customers.

Find out how to bring your innovations to the right market while limiting your risks.

Creating a start-up when you’re a researcher: a demanding but exciting career path

What problem does your innovation address? What can it do that other technologies cannot? What does it do better than other approaches?

Will it bring an advantage in terms of cost, feasibility or a new service?

Who will be your first customers? Is it a growth market? What business model will work best for them and for you?

How will you convince investors of the potential of your project?
Do you have serious barriers to entry for future competitors, such as a solid portfolio of patents of proven value?

For a researcher, setting up a start-up is an exciting adventure, but it also involves a lot of soul-searching.

What could be more satisfying than seeing the positive impact on society of long and uncertain research work a few years down the line? But how do you also know how to detect unmet needs in the market, pivot, change target or even give up when the market is not ready, or when the drawbacks induced by your technology turn out to be greater than initially imagined?

These are all questions, dilemmas and uncertainties that you will have to face.

However, it is not enough to come up with a revolutionary innovation to be welcomed with open arms by the market. The best science in the world, if it doesn’t meet a critical need or if it doesn’t significantly improve existing processes and technologies, won’t make it over the innovation wall.

Researcher-entrepreneur: how do you identify the right market?

The first question you need to answer is: « What problem are you really going to solve for your next customers? »

Answering this question will enable you to define your value proposition, to clearly list all forms of competition (and your competitors) and to have a clear vision of the market segments to be addressed as a priority. Chances are that your innovation will address several problems in very different markets. What’s more, there’s a very good chance that you will have very limited visibility of it at the outset.

Coming from the academic world, you obviously already have a clear vision of a few very specific areas of application; these are often linked to your collaborations with industry, and that is very valuable. But it may be that other markets, other segments that are far less obvious or even completely unknown to you, will ultimately prove to be far more relevant to the success of your start-up. Pivots are costly… sometimes essential but costly… and sometimes too late.

The importance of taking a step back when carrying out market research and broadening your field of research.

If you want to have any chance of finding the right market, you need to carry out a 360° analysis as the first stage of your market research. In practice, we often do exactly the opposite… we dive into two or three market segments… and if we don’t succeed, we climb back up. This exercise is very costly intellectually and difficult to implement, especially when the clock is ticking… and the clock for a start-up or SME is called cash flow!

Let’s take the example of a researcher who has developed an ultrasound generator capable of characterising liquid solutions in real time. Having completed his thesis in the hospital sector, the first obvious area of application for his start-up was the development of a medical device designed to monitor the patient’s condition during open-heart surgery.


In other words, it will take years of work and development, and hundreds of millions of euros of investment, before the start-up generates €1 in sales. The immediate question from the researcher and the incubator was: is there a more accessible and promising market? Instinctively, two other markets were mentioned: chemicals and food. Without further ado, a market study was launched in these markets, but unfortunately with inconclusive results: the technology in question did not solve any critical problems or problems identified as such by the industrialists interviewed.
Back to square one!

It was only after carrying out a rapid 360° analysis based on technical and scientific literature that new and very surprising functionalities and areas of application were identified. These then enabled us to investigate significantly different markets, such as the building and public works sector, and very quickly identify market segments with very rapid access and huge potential.

This example illustrates the need for researchers to have a 360° view of all the markets likely to be interested in their technology.

It is also a very real example: the start-up in question called on the services of TKM, which, after analysing all the world’s scientific literature, advised it to develop its activity in the construction and public works sector for a very specific and critical application (i.e. with associated economic stakes estimated in millions of euros). Since then, the start-up has worked exclusively with cement manufacturers and builders, offering them in situ monitoring solutions for the hardening of concrete structures.

Without TKM’s help, it would have taken months and a combination of serendipitous events for this researcher to think about approaching a cement manufacturer. With TKM, all it took was 5 days of research to put a market – and therefore customers! – that he would never have envisaged.

TKM: reduce your time-to-market by targeting the right markets from the outset

As a specialist in state of the art, market research, technology watch and intellectual property strategies, TKM has developed IPMetrix. IPMetrix is a multi-source monitoring tool capable of analysing and processing documents from the full range of scientific and economic literature. This tool gives you a clear view of your environment and all the relevant information you need to select the right market. This will help you structure your project and improve your chances of raising funds from investors.

By calling on TKM, you will also be able to access a much more detailed view of your competition, without limiting yourself to your direct competitors. After all, the same problem can be addressed using a number of different technologies… And you can’t afford to ignore an indirect competitor.

So, are you ready?

Contact us !


Author y.belrhiti-alaoui

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