One process of reaching out is called concurrent engineering. The focus here is determining likely downstream end users, lead customers, and commercialization partners. These people are brought together with your R&D team, manufacturing team (if you will make products), and sales team (whether for partnering, investment, or product sales).
In concurrent engineering, end users and possible lead customers are asked to contribute ideas as to what would make the technology particularly useful. You do not have to reveal anything that is proprietary. What you do is ask for peoples’ wish lists for an area of activity (a diagnostic or therapy, for example).
In today’s age of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, and websites, there are many ways to use the Web to reach out to people to open a dialogue. In this dialogue you are just another participant, but unlike the others, you are listening strategically in order to better set your technology’s performance, ease-of-use, and cost design specifications. Later, as you move forward, a more formal team is put together under nondisclosure agreements to act as an advisory board and review panel for the R&D plan and evaluation of its results.
Along with concurrent engineering, reaching out to other stakeholders is important. Our experience is that once a formal current engineering team is in place, it makes sense to reach out to regulators, professional societies, and industry associations (in particular chairs and members of relevant committees), and finally investors and other funders. This has two advantages.
First, regulatory approval is usually a huge challenge Early contact with the regulatory body is advisable to ensure that all testing and protocols comply with regulations—including manufacturing. Our experience is that if you call in and explain all you want to do is comply and you are just trying to figure out how to do that, people are almost always helpful.
The second advantage is you can generate “pull through” before approaching funders, by which we mean having a cohort of stakeholder advocates in place so when the investor does due diligence, they find people supportive and excited about what you are doing. That helps with the prior challenge. Of course, once you start reaching out to larger numbers of people, it is critical to have good intellectual property protection in place as trade secrets will only hold for so long once you start talking to folks.