Posted by: Mark Sorenson | April 11, 2009

The Candy Store

Have you ever seen or met an entrepreneur whose start-up was built around some technology or innovation and you thought, “How did that guy get hooked up with that invention?” Maybe you knew they weren’t an engineer or a programmer or inventor and couldn’t have come up with their business idea themselves, but still, they seemed to have started a business around some awesome technology. Maybe you went to the BYU Business Plan Competition like me, and wondered how those students got hooked up with the guys who developed their technology. Did they just go to the chemistry department and start asking students if any of them had happened to discover a new way to waterproof fabric and would let them start a business selling their discovery? Did they have some personal relationship with a professor there who happened to also be the inventor of the spork?

Those are all questions I would ask myself when I saw one of my peers or a serial entrepreneur starting a business. I wondered how I could find myself in such a great position as to have a revolutionary idea to start a company around. Well, many of my questions were answered this week.

As I mentioned before, the two guys who won the BYU Business Plan Competition with Xeromax go to my church ward. Chris Bryant, the CEO, and I had an interesting conversation in which he shared with me what I consider to be a well kept secret of entrepreneurs that wasn’t really a secret. This is what he told me:

Every major university in the United States, and probably many universities in other countries have something called the Technology Transfer Office (TTO). At least that is what it is called at BYU. Any time a discovery, invention, innovation or technology is discovered on a university campus, it has to go through the TTO. That office has the job of figuring out what to do with that technology. They decide how and who to license that technology to. Think of a huge warehouse where hundreds of discoveries are made. Now imagine that huge warehouse has only one tiny door for anything to get out. That door is the TTO. If you want access to anything that is discovered in that warehouse, you are going to have to get it from the TTO. There you can find a list of every discovery from the university that has not been licensed to anyone. You can get a full description for what that technology was designed to be used for, and possibly anything else you would ever want to know about it. They call this the Candy Store.  Kinda cool, huh?

Here is the fun part. Anyone can go in there and request the license of any of the technologies! That’s right, everyone from businesses to students to bums can go request a license. Now of course you are only going to get a license if you can show them that you can generate a profit with that license. If you plan on starting a company around your acquired license, the university will require some equity in your company, and of course royalties for using that license. That is a small price to pay if you are doing things right. Many companies have reps that go around the country to these candy stores looking for new innovations that will improve their product line or business in some way. Some businesses will pay millions of dollars for some of these technologies, and you can essentially get them for free if you can find a way to bring it to market.

That’s what I love about entrepreneurship. It’s all about finding opportunities and solutions to problems where others have not. If you can take a new technology and figure out a way to apply it to solve real problems, you are in the money. That’s what my friend Chris Bryant did. He took a technology that was designed to waterproof electronics and hearing aids, and applied it to textiles and sports equipment. Pretty simple really, but it took his creative mind to unlock that opportunity. I think that is truly amazing.

So next fall, when I am back at BYU and wanting to start a company, the first place I am going to go is the Candy Store.

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