A Blueprint for Tough Tech Entrepreneurs

  • Cull the most important lessons learned about Tough Tech entrepreneurship from experienced Tough Tech entrepreneurs;
  • Identify issues that are common among Tough Tech startups;
  • Offer strategic support for how to think through such issues;
  • Provide a set of tools for soon-to-be Tough Tech entrepreneurs to develop a plan and accelerate their development as they commercialize their technology.

A Blueprint Primer

Figure 1: Market vs Technological Uncertainty
Figure 2: Multidimensional Risks
  • Experimentation is not rapid and feedback cycles are long;
  • Experimentation cadence may not align with traditional financing times;
  • Costs of pivoting to new technology trajectories could be expensive (in money and time), limiting a company’s options;
  • The nature of technology development often includes prioritization across potentially conflicting performance metrics.
  1. Identification of key areas of scientific and engineering risk;
  2. Definition of critical metrics that you need to hit for value inflection;
  3. An assessment of the current status of the technology vis-a-vis those metrics;
  4. Identification of trade-offs across metrics as you develop your technology;
  5. A reasonable timeline for technical risk retirement and the set of experiments needed to do so.
  • Your technology not only needs to perform across required performance parameters, but it has to do so at scale;
  • You need to consider scale-up risks across technical metrics, manufacturing processes, supply chain activities, industry standards, and economics;
  • Often, there are unknown unknowns;
  • Making stuff in the physical world is hard: logistics, supply chain, technical tolerances, materials, equipment…you name it.
  1. Input / output mapping of your processes today and in an idealized future state;
  2. Techno-economic analysis through cost modeling;
  3. Supply chain analysis;
  4. Identification of long timelines that require action early.
  • Often Tough Tech is deployed into risk-averse industries;
  • Commercial demonstrations either at the pilot or commercial scales are capital intense;
  • The presence of large competitors with scale efficiency and market power;
  • Value capture challenges related to all of the above.
  • How to think about a platform technology — how do you decide what market to go after first?
  1. Clearly defined value proposition;
  2. Industry mapping;
  3. Market sizing;
  4. Presentation of business model options.
  • It is hard to move the needle when you have unproven technology;
  • There is a concern of regulatory lock-out and incumbent power;
  • Freedom to operate could be restrained;
  • Safety trade-offs;
  • Headline risks.
  1. Defining the potential regulatory risks;
  2. Defining the regulatory landscape;
  3. Outlining non-dilutive funding opportunities;
  4. Creating a timeline for regulatory engagement that aligns with the project plan.
  • If you are a graduate student, post-doc, or research scientist thinking about starting a tough tech company — join us for our next program this fall!
  • If you are a Tough Tech entrepreneur — we want to hear your story, share your challenges, and highlight your successes;
  • If you similarly have been thinking about these issues from a practice or research perspective, we want your critiques, suggestions, and tweaks!

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Built by MIT, we help founders create the next generation of world-changing companies. Visit us at engine.xyz.

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