Welcome to the TEC Renaissance – coming soon to a continent, university and firm near you. For almost two decades, the TEC Algorithm -- developed at North Carolina State University with grants from the National Science Foundation and the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology and Science – has been used as the basis for teaching process-based technology commercialization skills to managers, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs as well as to students from over two dozen universities in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
The algorithm has also been adopted as a structure and process for technology commercialization by more than 50 firms ranging from the Fortune 500 to high-potential, technology- rich start-ups. And it continues to provide the backbone for graduate education offerings in technology commercialization and entrepreneurship at North Carolina State.
“TEC” is short for “Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization,” and the TEC Algorithm is a series of highly structured commercialization tools. It is designed specifically to help firms cross the so-called “Valley of Death” that occurs at the front end of innovation whenpromising technologies fail to generate any commercial rewards. Managers—even those with very limited commercialization experience— can use these tools to make effective investment and product development decisions and to rationalize their organizations’ innovation processes.
Unlike most common approaches, TEC rejects the notion that the front end of innovation is too uncertain to be managed systematically; its disciplined processes help firms avoid the temptation to engage in expensive experimentation and to follow the urge to “just do it,” when systematic data gathering and analysis are often quicker and more efficient. With TEC, when a product is launched, it is not some blind market experiment but rather a carefully considered introduction.
A recent international “Atlantis” grant jointly supported by the U.S. Department of Education and the European Union established TECnet, an international network consisting initially of more than a dozen technology commercialization and entrepreneurship educators who have adopted the TEC Algorithm and are engaged in developing and improving best practices in the teaching and practice of technology commercialization.
The Uniqueness of TEC
TEC is based in part on a thorough understanding of the limitations of gate-driven approaches to commercialization. In particular, the TEC Algorithm avoids the commonplace practice of crushing promising ideas in the maw of linear gate-driven evaluation processes.
TEC is, instead, explicitly iterative and developmental. For corporate clients, TEC creates structured processes that improve decision-making, control, predictability, and even creativity by focusing on what is knowable and discriminating at early stages of commercialization processes.
Finally, because TEC takes the form of a carefully developed, highly structured pedagogy for teaching our process, it can be learned and applied effectively even by people with limited relevant experience. A primary learning outcome for TEC is that people learn skills and ways of thinking that mirror the shortcuts, heuristics and even gut sense that most people acquire only after years of experience.
Three Big Opportunities
If TEC is sitting on top of the world, then why, you might ask, do we need the TEC Renaissance? True, we are hardly in the Dark Ages today, but as we respond to changing business needs, our vision of what TEC needs to become demands greater and more rapid changes than the incremental improvements that we make year-to-year. The continued promise of the TEC approach to technology commercialization and entrepreneurship demands a series of fundamental changes and enhancements. In particular, we intend to address three big opportunities to make TEC a more powerful business tool.
1. We believe that “cloud” data- gathering tools and structured analytics are game changing in that they help firms avoid doing the wrong R&D as well as launching the wrong products and services. We will therefore integrate cutting-edge information and analytics tools into each part of the TEC Algorithm.
2. TEC has been designed and optimized specifically for the development and launching of new technology-enabled products. Of course, in many cases, client firms and entrepreneurs have improvised ways to make the algorithm work for the development of new services and service delivery models.
A great deal of emerging research, however—much of it underwritten by CIMS—suggests that approaches that make sense for product development may not only be inadequate but actually value destroying for service development, and that much of what is important for service development may be completely ignored in product development models.
The TEC Renaissance will embrace the need to systematically manage the front end of innovation for development of new technology-enabled services and will provide systematic processes and tools both to teach effective approaches and also to structure corporate service development processes.
3. TEC was first developed at a time when simply earning a good profit could be equated with “sustainability,” commonly defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” That time has passed. For many organizations, sustainability will be simply a cost driver. Their approach will continue to be, “we’ll burn the toast and then we’ll scrape it.” But when sustainability is incorporated at the very front end of product and service design, it can be a source of cost savings, a driver of quality and reliability, and a builder of customer and partner goodwill.
For some firms, skills and commitments to sustainability will open lucrative and important new product and service opportunities. The TEC Renaissance will build from the cutting edge of research and best practices in sustainability—and will also undertake original research—in order to incorporate the best of what is known about turning sustainability from a cost driver into a continuing source of opportunities.
The TEC Renaissance began on October 28, 2010 at the CIMS Corporate Sponsors meeting in Raleigh. The three- year project, underwritten by CIMS, is being led by myself and Prof. Stephen Markham of the NC State Poole College of Management. We intend to enlist the help of an array of world-class experts. We will use this forum and others to keep you updated about our progress and to encourage you to become involved.
We will also be looking for partners to help us develop, trial and improve the new TEC Algorithm as we work to bring you a tool that will help your business to exploit cutting-edge information and analytics to develop new products and services that turn the demands of sustainability into opportunities for competitive advantage for your firm.
For More Information
Barr, Steve, Ted Baker, Steve Markham, and Angus Kingon. 2009. “Bridging the Valley of Death: Lessons learned from 14 years of commercialization of technology education.”Academy of Management Learning & Education, 8(3), pp. 370-388.
Kingon, Angus, Ted Baker and Roger Debo. 2011.” Scientists behaving... badly?: Issues in the management of student-faculty interactions in university technology commercialization projects.” Forthcoming in Libecap, G. and Thursby, M. (Eds.) Advances in Entrepreneurship, Innovation & Firm Growth.
Associate Professor, Management Innovation & Entrepreneurship
Executive Director, The Entrepreneurship Collaborative
NC State University College of Management