ESTEEM Assistant Director and Faculty, Sunny Shah, was recently featured in a Discoveries post on the National Science Foundation’s website. As a past participant, and current advocate, for the NSF’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps), Sunny was a natural spokesperson.
I-Corps is a program funded by NSF with the focus of helping scientists and engineers translate their research and technology to the market. In Sunny’s case, that meant finding out that the market he thought would benefit from his product may not be the right initial market.
Sunny and his team had developed a diagnostic tool for detecting the presence of pathogens – a tool which they originally thought would benefit the food safety market. Unfortunately representatives from vendors in food processing and testing labs as well as from health agencies basically said that the test’s accuracy and affordability were attractive did not address their primary “pain point” which was speed. They needed a test that could provide results in two hours, not the two days that current tests require.
Learning from this experience, Sunny now teaches about the importance of getting out of the classroom– with heavy focus on customer validation – in his Business Model Canvas/Design Thinking and Lean Startup Courses. As he said in the article, “it doesn’t matter what we, as researchers think… It’s what the customer thinks and the only way to identify this customer need is by getting out and interviewing them.”