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Principles of technology commercialization in the real world

Rochester Business Journal
August 9, 2013

The best business advice on technology commercialization comes from the experts, and John Sibley Butler is one of them. A distinguished scholar at the University of Texas at Austin, Butler is the director of the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship and director of the Institute for Innovation and Creativity, which was instrumental in helping Dell Inc., Whole Foods Market and a host of other companies grow into what we know them as today.
Butler also started a $60 million-plus company-using some of the following principles, which he shared with students at Rochester Institute of Technology's Saunders College of Business:
"There's an interaction between what scientists are doing in the laboratories and the business world. If you look at the fast-moving technological economy that we are in, the most important people are the scientists. Our job is to take those ideas and put a business model around the science to create jobs and create wealth through companies."

"All types of companies are being impacted by technology. The taxi that I rode in is a technological innovation; the airplane I rode in is a technological innovation. So when we say technology, we mean innovation. We know that in everything from Facebook to Microsoft, technology has changed the business models."

"The idea of creativity is coming from the sciences. And that means business schools need an association with biology, with chemistry, with engineering, with music. So the takeaway is this: Learn the process. It can be applied to technologies in whiskey making, shoemaking, clothing-because we are going to have smart clothing, better eyeglasses, better shoes. And the question is: How do you take these new technologies to market or, of course, enhance corporate America's ability to be more competitive?"

"You must always have the content of self-destruction in your own company. I would say the lesson of Dell or the lesson of Xerox, Kodak, IBM or American Airlines is that competition and technology changed the business model. So the message is be creative; look at all the scientific movements in the field, and incorporate them into the business model."

"Companies that utilize science understand that in the business world there is no difference between chemistry and business, there's no difference between music and business. Business brings the technology for commercialization and the technology for marketing."

"If I could take a magic wand and redo universities, all disciplines would have contact with commercialization. Scientists must understand that their ideas are very important, but they are not businesspeople. Their idea is to win a Nobel Prize and seek the next problem. Our job is to get with those scientists and show them the dynamics of what they're doing and essentially how we can change the business model of companies."

"Rochester is an elegant city, a clean city and a city in which there are great entrepreneurs and companies like Kodak and Xerox. Entrepreneurs are the ones who create the dynamics of job creation and wealth creation, so I would say make the entrepreneurs the heroes and put science and technology in the very center of economic development, and that comes from universities."

"An ecosystem is a place where everything is connected; it's all those things necessary for one to do well. The legal system is important because of business uncertainty; it's getting the IP attorneys to understand equity and to not charge entrepreneurs when they don't have the money."

"Wealth must not put itself in a cave; it must invest in new companies so Rochester can be a place where future generations stay. Business know-how is important, so you put that together with the accounting systems, the legal systems and the wealthy people, and it creates a dynamic system. In Nashville, it creates a country-western singer; in Rochester, it creates companies."

"People who live in cities should be entrepreneurs. One of the things that Rochester has to do is to take the black population and make it very entrepreneurial. So when I go to Rochester, I see buildings standing. I see a Morehouse College; I see a Spelman College. You must make the populace of a city-they must be the service, they must learn to serve. You cannot think you are a minority; you have to think you can drive economic development. That means mentally getting out of the minority status."

dt ogilvie is dean of the Saunders College of Business at Rochester Institute of Technology.

8/9/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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