…or how to transform your H2020 R&D results into a market-ready product or service.
You are now two thirds along the way (Month 24 in project lingo) and the Horizon 2020 Innovation Action in which you participate is entering its final, critical year.
Over the past two years, significant technical progress has been achieved. Most of your partners focussed on developing, testing, and refining the components needed by your selected users to access the EO-based services you are providing and thus reap the full benefits in their workflows.
So far, your consortium has managed to establish a robust data processing pipeline, which fuses Copernicus Sentinel data with additional in-situ or socio-economic information. You have most likely had a chance to train your algorithms – using machine learning techniques – over a few iterations of pilots or demonstrations and shown them to have a high level of performance and fidelity.
Just a few months ago, you launched the portal through which the information services are made available to your users. You may have relied on pre-existing good practices or developed from scratch with a full UI/UX approach to ensure you deliver a user-friendly environment.
Today, you find yourself at a very important crossroads. Technically your solution is working well and delivering services as envisaged upon submitting your proposal. The seemingly endless discussions with your consortium partners – over multiple days and nights of proposal preparation – seem to have borne fruit, and the ideas you had developed together back then are now in full shape! Yet, despite your justified enthusiasm, you are faced with a significant challenge – how can you transform the results of your project into a market-ready service, capable of being sustained for years after the end of the project?
The answer to this question – one that participants in every Innovation Action and many Research and Innovation Actions must face – can be best obtained by doing rigorous work on your exploitation work package. Let us look into some of the steps you need to take to make this work.
Preliminary business plan
Applicants of Innovation Actions are obliged at proposal stage, to develop a “mini” preliminary business plan which will serve as first step when producing the final one. This entails clearly describing the product and service definition; highlighting the targeted markets after an initial effort to size them; demonstrating the value proposition against the competitive landscape; and, finally, detailing your projections towards financial sustainability. In addition, you are requested to include fundamental considerations regarding the project’s key exploitable assets and detail the IP management approach you intend to follow. Despite the increasing efforts invested in these aspects, we often see that once the project starts, consortia find themselves fully absorbed with the technical aspects and tend to neglect the exploitation and commercialisation questions. If this sounds familiar, we encourage you to keep on reading for key tips on how to address such circumstances.
Target sizing is an essential exercise and it should be grounded in well-justified reasoning. Bigger is not necessarily better if it cannot be convincing. Therefore, try to assess the Serviceable Obtainable Market using clear assumptions as you narrow down from the Total Addressable Market.
Fully fledged business plan
As project implementation progresses, a host of sustainability questions start kicking in, with increasing urgency and significance. These include:
A good answer to the last question requires a better market analysis than at the preliminary stage and a more robust market sizing. This in turn raises questions around how to capture these markets:
A very important parallel stream of inquiries is related to IP Management. Identifying your Intellectual Property (IP) assets, conducting an asset valuation and devising strategies on how to protect and/or monetise IP is an essential step towards the long-term sustainability of your solution.
All of the above questions are particularly relevant to the world of EO products and services. In most cases, solutions can be highly-automated and scalable, whilst at the same, time tweakable so that they meet the requirements of specific users. Moreover, access to data that enables global-scale coverage and the increasing deployment of solutions on robust platforms offering the necessary resources, makes delivery of products and services to multiple users across countries a real possibility.
A thorough assessment of each of these topics will help you develop a fully-fledged business plan or sustainability strategy. Yet, one more topic should not be forgotten, underestimated, or left for the later stages of the project. This is: How do we organise ourselves for post-project exploitation?
Start business planning early and go through multiple iterations together with your partners and engaged users. The sooner you raise these questions, the greater their impact on the quality of your developed solution and the soundness of the associated business or sustainability strategies.
Post project exploitation
The project has just ended, and some version of saudade kicks in as you reminisce about the ups and downs of the collaboration whilst also considering the challenges ahead. Your journey from idea, via R&D, and now heading towards market commercialisation is now at a critical junction. In most cases, follow-up funding seems the only viable or perhaps “comfortable” option. But additional sustainability paths – explored theoretically in your business plan or exploitation strategy – could either become reality or simply remain a well-thought-out scenario in a report.
These paths may include:
Clearly defining who does what after the end of the project, how the various IP assets are to be exploited and which roadblocks may arise, should be done at least 6 months before the project ends. Doing so, will take you a long way towards long-term sustainability.
You are not alone
Ultimately, completing these steps depends on your own scientific and technical excellence, your business acumen, and your fortitude. But even if you do possess all these qualities, you may find that you need help navigating the complexities of a competitive EO solutions market – and we would be happy to offer it! So, if any of the situations described above sound familiar, feel free to contact us! We will keep posting stories of IP and innovation, trying to ensure increasing depth and wider perspective so that we can capture the reality of actors developing EO solutions. Stay tuned!