Most startups dread the “Valley of Death,” that gap between having a big idea and having a revenue-earning product. But here at UNeTech, we seek it out. Why? Because our affiliation with the University of Nebraska system puts a wealth of ingenious inventors and inspired ideas at our disposal. Guiding startups across the so-called Valley of Death like seasoned entrepreneurial Sherpas is what we do here.
Most startups have a big idea, something an entrepreneur wants to develop, scale, put on the shelf at the store (or put in the Amazon search results). From this perspective, the Valley of Death is scary. If you can’t find some funding, your big idea will quickly die, right along with your dreams of making that idea profitable. The End.
But at UNeTech we have a wealth of ideas and brilliant inventors right next door. Thanks to our affiliation with the University of Nebraska, our location on campus at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and our close ties to UNeMed, UNMC’s technology transfer organization, we have access to the most valuable intellectual property in Nebraska. My task as UNeTech’s resident Grant Writer, then, is to identify the most impactful innovations facing the dreaded Valley of Death and get them the funding they need to flourish into full-fledged products available for purchase.
I used to think a startup incubator was something an entrepreneur might seek out in desperation. “Please,” I imaged this poor aspiring mogul begging, “my big idea is going nowhere. Can you help me turn it into a successful business?” “Why yes,” the savvy incubator would reply, “we will take pity upon your poor idea and turn it into a great success story.”
That’s not how it goes. At least, that’s not how it happens here. At UNeTech, we go looking for the next big thing, something with the potential to have a serious impact. I’m not writing a grant proposal for just any good idea, however; if an innovation is already well-developed, de-risked, and suitable for investment, I’m not needed anymore. It’s the ideas that haven’t proven themselves yet that we want—the ones regarding which investors might tell an entrepreneur, “Come back when you know it works.”
For example, there’s the Precision Syringe. When a top ophthalmologist at UNMC devised a new, more precise syringe design to help him make difficult ocular injections, we stepped in to get it some funding, to turn that idea into a startup and add it to the budding Omaha, Nebraska, entrepreneurial ecosystem. Does it really make injections more accurate and effective? We think so. With some federal grant money supporting research and development, we can find out. Our role is to shepherd that great idea from interesting concept to desirable product.
UNeTech is a bridge—or maybe a zipline—across that Valley of Death.