Oleg Kouzbit, Online News Managing Editor
To invent something is one thing. To make money out of what you have invented is quite another. Sounds like a very basic truth, doesn’t it? However, as Rufina Klishkovskaya from Nizhny Novgorod based Communication Laboratory fittingly observed, the idea of applying creative and nonconventional approaches when it comes to exploring an innovation market just “doesn’t occur” to many innovators. These and a number of other important aspects in promoting and selling an innovation product were focal in her recent master-classes she conducted at the Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod (UNN) during a major youth innovation event in this mid-Volga city called “InnoFest.”
Rufina has vast experience in management positions at commercial companies. Prior to establishing three years ago her own business in Nizhny, Communication Laboratory, she was responsible for finance and distribution, working for a range of sizable market players both in the region and beyond. She’s also skilled in corporate coaching, with the commercialization of an innovation product a key topic to present to audiences.
Here’s what the expert shared with the UNN Technology Commercialization Center press service last week:
You explained to the master-class audience the complexity of promoting and selling innovation solutions. How do these processes differ with an innovation product and with any other conventional product?
Well, first of all, having a conventional product would you compete with others in pricing? You sure would. And when you have an innovation one? Makes no sense.
Then, if with a traditional product you can broadly use presentation sales techniques, like placing photos and/or putting together a showroom for people to come and buy, because they know well what your product is about, with an innovation product it takes a good deal of explaining, absolutely. There must be some information next to your product, or someone able to succinctly and coherently describe the thing.
A noticeable difference also lies in what’s known in marketing as the purchase funnel. With a traditional product we “knock” on our client’s door—and are likely to get a deal; and then again, and again. There’s obvious motivation for salespeople, and their chiefs can easily expect some quantifiable results as staff are bent to achieving sales that bring them remuneration. With innovation to sell, you can keep “knocking” until you knock yourself out trying—and here you are, getting your inaugural deal at last! With a truly innovation product first sales are worth a party.
Can university start-ups see the difference? Are our young innovators aware of the nuances of marketing something that their market may have little or no idea about?
The problem is that most choose a conventional path, drawing upon their daily life experience. People want to build a factory immediately, and then deliver their products to stores. That an innovation market might require more flexible methodologies simply doesn’t come to mind.
Here’s a good example from my master-class: girls have developed a new sort of fertilizer. They think in terms of setting up shop, making the fertilizer, and how they will then bring it to farmers. I told them that there was an option of finding a well established fertilizer brand and suggesting to it that the company elect to choose to either package the fertilizer produced by the girls under its own trademark, or just buy the technology from the developers. That had never occurred to the girls, as I realized.
Some business solutions just don’t suggest themselves to people. And that puts serious barriers. I met a man at one of the master-classes who is developing special protection for hard disk drives. I assume he’s come up with something really useful; but selling it online just doesn’t make sense. All he can expect is a hit and miss kind of sales. And he won’t share his strategy with anyone, and won’t let go of unrestricted control of his project.
I have met many innovators, and can say with all honesty: the way some of them squander their efforts is a shame. One has developed a new technology of using hyperthermia, a cancer therapy that calls for the heating of a patient’s body to high temperatures. The developer, a scientist, had every chance of selling his technology. But that’s what he shared with me, “Oh those darned Americans! You see, they gave me a business plan. Yes, I know I will get my money, and pretty decent money too, but—the first on a list there is a certain Jack who has nothing to do with it, then someone else, then again some goddam John, AND I am but the fourth! I sent them packing…” And so he stays, with a patent and a tiny clinic, sitting on his technology with this “keep-your-hands-off-it” philosophy.
Can a Russian university possibly produce one day a new Apple or something else that could knock the market dead, in your opinion? Or is today’s customer too hard to astonish, especially if a new thing comes from outside the developed world?
Yes, if from outside, this is hard indeed. The state can’t be a customer of consumer innovation. It can place orders for innovatively designed tanks or guns, but hardly for new consumer stuff. For the latter, it’s only the market that can do so. But unfortunately, our state doesn’t lend people a hand in entering the global market. All the rest is irrelevant. An innovation technology or product is its developer’s baby, and wanting to see one’s baby grow and mature means taking it to the wide world.
How you do that is secondary. But you have to, and any prejudices that get in the way slow down the development of your baby. If you’re convinced that innovation is for your Motherland exclusively, this is an impediment for you. If you believe that you just can’t be but the very first, and you name should be above all else’s, this is an impediment for you. If you’re convinced it’s only you, and you alone, that must bring your innovation product or service to an end user, this is an impediment for you. Because you may be great at inventing but illiterate when it comes to ‘packaging’ and delivering to the customer what you have invented. All these are confines that keep you from progressing. Broaden your boundaries, and you’ll be a much greater success.
InnoFest is a four-week event of regional significance put together at Lobachevsky UNN. It is aimed at assisting in the development of a youth innovation environment, encouraging transferable skills and activities, seeking out and supporting advanced ideas by the scientific youth, and fostering social and research integration within academia.
The festival has brought together more than 1,000 young scientists from Nizhny regional universities and research institutes, as well as high-level government officials and business people from both the domestic and international entrepreneurial communities.
Russian Venture Company (RVC), one of this country’s key development drivers and the national fund of funds for innovation, provides support as General Partner.
The Festival’s Strategic Partners include Intel, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Connect and Bosch, three of the world’s major multinationals. Promsvyazbank, a sizable Russian bank, offers support as Corporate Partner. Regional Partners include MTS, a leading Russian telecom operator and retailer, and Rugasco, a Russo-Norwegian gas equipment JV.