[InnoVEX Forum 2022] Commercialization, Differentiation, and Specialization are Foundations for Startups

 2022-07-22 By: InnoVEX Team

Innovation is a key part of startups’ successes that might encourage more and better investments, partnerships, purchases, etc. Often, innovation goes hand in hand with academia whose research may discover new, groundbreaking technologies and methods with great benefits. At the same time, academics are not commonly associated with startups as industries, academics, and startups often have different goals and methods to achieve them.

The Industry-Academic Collaboration Demo Day was directed by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and organized by National Applied Research Laboratories (NAR Labs). The event also introduced 9 teams: Aiplux Technology, Charco, FiduciaEdge Technologies, Flexwave, Goedge.ai, Alliance of LPWAN Technology and IoT Applications, Center for Genomic Medicine National Cheng Kung University, Sounds Great, and Wedge Technology Taiwan.

Focus on What Matters

The first part of the demo day was a fireside chat featuring Wu-Fu Chen, Chairman of Acorn Campus Taiwan; Ning Ning Yu, VP of the LA R&D team of Taboola; and Simon Fang, Founder of Darwin Venture Management, Inc. The panel discussed various topics on startups including the effects of recent events as well as general trends on startups and academic teams. One of the points discussed by the panel was how recent major events seem to have added more challenges for startups as potential investors, buyers, or partners might shy away from exploring new opportunities or may have even ceased their operations. However, startups will always find challenges and opportunities in equal measure regardless of timing and circumstances. At the same time, startups often do not operate on the same paradigm as corporations and might find opportunities when corporations are experiencing a downturn, maybe even seeing a boost in valuation, expertise, etc. when companies are not doing too well.

While geographic advantages used to be a major factor for success or failure, now there are more ways to mitigate geographic disadvantages: by making meaningful connections with international resources. Opportunities for startups are everywhere, but the growth of opportunities also grows competitions and limits access to resources for some startups. However, it will also push founders to know more about their market and environment as well as being more careful with their resource allocation. In addition, specific industries will inevitably gather more attention and more funding. With the proper connection, understanding of the market, and differentiation; startups would be able to secure these limited resources for their growth. At the same time, backgrounds can be a differentiation factor for startups. For example, academics will often have access to or develop new and unique technologies; as well as access to resources for their growth including funding, advisors, support systems, etc. Academic research teams can leverage these resources to progress into becoming startups if they wish to.

In certain cases, industry-academic cooperation can be stunted due to existing or previously existing legal limitations as well as preconceived ideas on either side’s counterpart. For example, when academic researchers or PhD resources remain in universities without any intention of branching out into startups; investors might also lose interest as the situation limits startups’ access to the aforementioned resources of differentiation, funding, advisors, and support systems. While in some cases this happened due to legal or ethics codes, this is not beneficial and might need to be reconsidered. VCs will have different specializations and interests, but without prospective startups to invest in, it might be hard to nurture the startup ecosystem.

It is also important to remember that while the progression from academic research team to startup seems to be natural; it still needs a rather drastic change in mindset. Startups have to be much more pragmatic and practical than academic research teams as their goal is to profit while academia might not have to be too concerned about the financial aspects of their research. The commitment required is also different as a failed research can still yield good reports, but a failed startup might mean financial ruin.

One of the main weaknesses of many academic startups is that they often focus on their products or innovations, not on how to make it attractive to the customers. Regardless of their backgrounds, startups need to focus on solving problems and providing value to their customers. To survive, startups need to be able to tell their story, leverage their differentiation, as well as maintain a well-balanced team, and develop a profitable business strategy. Starting a company is never easy and with the intense competition, some startups might not be able to receive the resources they need. The key is to not lose heart and keep trying to improve.

Startups often try to diversify their offerings, but in most cases this might not be the right direction to take. While diversification of products/ solutions might be able to reach a wider audience, it will take up resources perhaps for suboptimal returns. Specialization is perhaps a better, though riskier way as they will inevitably limit their potential customers. Startups should be more confident and network more to share and discuss their ideas to be able to develop clearer goals, better business models, and if needed pivot to a better opportunity. Better opportunity does not mean to pursue what everyone else is doing as many startups today chase after buzzwords that they assume investors or customers will be interested in. In reality, the most important part for startups is their core competence.

While startups commonly pitch to present their business ideas to gain investments, recognitions, or business opportunities; it is important to note that without the underlying basics of a proper business model, proper team, proper team, and proper strategy, the pitch will not help the team. At the same time, startups should not limit their scope to the local market only, but plan for the international market because many pain points that startups are aiming to solve are often universal. To truly succeed, startups will need to do their own market research and evaluate their teams and partners to make sure they do not waste any time, effort, or resources.

Academic Startups Introduced in Pitches

The Industry-Academic Collaboration Demo Day also featured a series of pitches from 9 teams in various industries. The participating teams were:

Aiplux - a legal tech startup using AI and natural language processing (NLP) to make intellectual property (IP) accessible to everyone. The main product of Aiplux is the local online filing assistant (LOFA) that can help users apply for trademarks both domestically and internationally. The solution reduces processing time and costs and is aimed for 3 main user bases: direct users, licensing partners, and API partners.

Charco - an agritech startup that aims to reduce global produce waste. Charco combines plant essential oils extracted from produce scraps with nanocarbon powder to create an all natural, eco-friendly, safe, economic, and effective natural coating for the produce. The coating will inhibit critical enzyme activities, block oxygen diffusion, prevent dehydration, and prevent adhesion & growth of fungal spores; preventing crop failure and improving yield rate.

FiduciaEdge - a cybersecurity & data privacy team focusing on edge computing security. FiduciaEdge aims to help users achieve edge intelligence security through FiduciaEdge Computing Platform, a computing platform to protect data privacy right at the source through kernel level information isolation, capacity based access control, lightweight hardware support, and full CNCF compliance. Their other solution is Trust Anchor, a cybersecurity service to ensure trustworthiness of everything.

Flexwave - a green energy team focusing on solar energy harvesting. Flexwave’s flexible solar panels can gather light from a wider angle which gives them a concentrator behavior. Their solar panel can provide 25% more power and when combined with their solar charger, the system can generate 75% more power. B2B users can also customize their solar panels with different shapes, sizes, and colors without sacrificing efficiency.

Goedge.ai - an AI startup aiming to provide accessible AI expert systems for smart manufacturing. Goedge.ai’s solution combines AI, user, and system. The AI engine will be used to handle the modeling work while a calibration module records the resident experts’ actions to improve the AI model’s performance. When combined, all software and components are integrated in a scalable platform for better results & simple deployment.

Alliance of LPWAN Technology and IoT Applications, NTHU - an academic research team from National Tsing Hua University. The solution presented was titled “Image and Data Analyzing AI Models Service Platform”; an AI platform for agriculture applications. As an alliance, the team is well connected with various organizations and universities to create multiple solutions such as quality control, pest control, climate control, quality grading, and more.

Center for Genomic Medicine, NCKU - a medtech & biotech team from National Cheng Kung University. Their solution “AI-assisted embryo prediction system - icONE” aims to precisely predict embryo implantation rate for in-vitro fertilization (IVF) processes. The solution combines genomic data of the embryo from the PGT-A with the maternal clinicopathology to evaluate the viability of the embryo. The solution is currently about 92% accurate, which is 15% higher than the available alternatives.

Sounds Great - a semiconductor design house. The product they presented was their first crossover innovation: motion microchip; the world’s first chip that can produce the required force and motion to replace the voice coils and motors of speakers. The chip’s main advantages are its small form factor, high power density, and smaller power impedance variations and is aimed to be implemented in headsets, stereo systems, etc.

Wedge Technology - a semiconductor startup aiming to upgrade the semiconductor industry rapidly, effectively, and intelligently. Their product is the Wafer Inscribing Recognition Machine, which is able to speed up the wafer inspection process and improve the inspection efficiency with an efficient and useful AI Recognition system. Their solution can inspect up to 25 wafers in 3.6 seconds as opposed to 1 wafer in 25 seconds that the currently available systems offer.

The winners of this pitch event were:
  • Center for Genomic Medicine, NCKU (Grand Winner)

  • Sounds Great (1st Runner Up)

  • Aiplux Technology (2nd Runner Up)

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