10 rules for technology transfer in wind energy

Recently I had the pleasure to present “10 rules for technology transfer in wind energy” to the Swiss Wind Energy R&D network. This was my take on what the wind energy industry needs to do to support technology transfer by startups. In this post I’ll share a summary. I’d love your thoughts!

Download the slides

You can download the slides by clicking on the image below, or through this link.


Why startups are so important for technology transfer

Before I get into the rules, it’s useful to understand why the rules basically focus on startups. That’s because products sold by startups are by far the best way to get new technology adopted by industry, compared to through publications or by licensing intellectual property. Buying products is usually faster and less risky.

The actors

This presentation addresses four main groups of people. They are:

  1. The R&I organisations, like universities, where ideas originate
  2. The innovators, or those people who want to leverage ideas for business opportunities (often as startup founders
  3. The early adopters, who are usually amongst the first customers for a product
  4. The enablers, who set out to help this all happen.

Together these groups form a pipeline to get new ideas out of the labs and into use.

The rules

Rules for R&I organisations

… like universities or corporate R&D centers, where ideas originate.

  1. Encourage and support all forms of technology transfer. This includes collaborative research, which exposes researchers to the needs of customers; events and training to build skills and raise the awareness of startups as a career choice; and mentoring, to help maintain motivation and connect innovators to the services they need.

The goal here is to create a real and deep-seated innovation and technology transfer culture.

Rules for innovators

Those people who want to leverage ideas for business opportunities (often as startup founders):

  1. Build a demo. It’s so much easier for potential customers to understand something they can touch - or click - than a slideshow. Spend some time on mocking it up!
  2. Talk to even more potential customers. Don’t pitch your product. Instead, listen to their needs. And then make sure your product meets those needs.
  3. Build a team. You can’t do everything alone, and your customers want to see that they aren’t reliant on one person. So build a team! But don’t worry too much about filling posts like CTO or CEO at the start. Instead, build a group of people that you can work with, and aim for diversity so you can avoid group think. I like this concept, from an article about groups of Astronauts flying to Mars.

A good group needs a leader, a social secretary, a storyteller and a mixture of introverts and extroverts.

Intriguingly, by far the most important role seems to be that of the clown.

— From The Economist. “The problems of flying to Mars”, Feb 23 2019.

Rules for the enablers

… like government funding agencies, or incubators and accelerators who set out to help this all happen:

  1. €10K makes a difference. €10k (or $, or pounds) can really get things moving:
    • It’s 2 months of a PhD researcher’s salary, which could be an EXIST proposal
    • it’s 3-6 months of living costs, which could be a demo;
    • it’s 3 conferences over a year, which could be traction.

…but it needs to be easy to apply for, and decisions need to be quick!

  1. Fill the funnel. We need to get lots and lots of people interested in being a startup so that more ideas will make it to the finish line. Every time someone is excluded, we potentially loose good ideas.
  2. Get the word out. The best support programmes are useless if no-one knows about them. It’s essential to advertise your programme and make contact with people.

These measures all help fill the pipeline and get people over the starting hurdles. They also help create a feeling of success, which can be missing in the early days of a startup.

Rules for the early adopters

… who are usually amongst the first customers for a product:

  1. Speed matters. If you want to work with a startup, be quick. A week’s delay might not sound like much, but it can cause problems with resources. A month’s delay can cause havoc with cashflow.
  2. Be partners. You need to help startups navigate the problems of working with your company. If you have an innovation team, bring them in.
  3. Be realistic. Don’t expect too much from a startup. They have to pitch high to get attention (or VC funding), and they might not understand your needs. Meet them in the middle, and you’ll both benefit.

These measures aim to help the startup engage with a customer and get traction, which is vital to them surviving the early stage.

Your feedback

What’s your experience of this process? What’s missing?