Too often developers or researchers invest thousands of man-hours on R&D with little if any customer input. Only after building and launching the product does the venture get substantial feedback from the end-users or customers. This carries a high risk that, in the end, it is realised that customers do not need or want most of the product’s features.
This is why, as part of the SANBio/BioFISA II grant application process, the lean start-up approach has been integrated to ensure that scientific R&D projects emphasise customer feedback to inform product development.
In the lean approach, rather than engaging in months of planning and research, entrepreneurs (or researchers, for that matter) accept that all they have on day one is only a series of untested hypotheses – basically speaking, good guesses. These are summarized in a framework called a business model canvas, which essentially allows a company or project to determine its value proposition, general potential, potential customers, partners, revenue streams, costs and activities, etc. to determine the proposed business model.
Developing a minimum viable product and doing market testing early on with constant feedback from potential customers ensures quicker market uptake of products developed. A minimum viable product is a product with just enough features to allow for immediate eliciting of relevant customer feedback. If research is oriented towards a concrete end-product, one should not waste time and money developing a product no one will want to use or pay for – hence the need for the lean start-up approach.
This was the crux of the course titled Lean Entrepreneur in Biosciences where 42 participants from 8 SANBio Member States, shortlisted as candidates for Flagship grants of up to R4.5 million per project, were trained at the Farm Inn in Pretoria from 4th-8th July 2016. The training was conducted by instructors from Courage Ventures Ltd, a Finnish company.
Two enthusiastic SANBio Student Ambassadors (from Zimbabwe and South Africa) also attended the training. This provided them with a valuable chance to learn much about the biosciences research being conducted in the region and to network with distinguished researchers.
To launch the event, Mrs Anu Saxén, Minister-Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission representing the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Dr Ereck Chakauya, SANBio Network Manager, and Mr Will Cardwell, trainer and partner at Courage Ventures Ltd, gave the opening remarks at the networking dinner on Sunday the 4th of July.
On Monday the training started in earnest, and for the next four days participants learned about business model generation using the Business Model Canvas as a tool, customer development and the importance of engaging customers constantly, as well as agile processes. Several guest speakers gave talks to the participants about high impact research, commercialisation of products as well as the potential to obtain equipment from Seeding Labs (an American NGO that provides equipment to institutions of higher learning in developing countries).
Dragon’s Den styled pitching sessions were held on Thursday and Friday, and an official networking dinner was held on Thursday evening. The networking dinner was graced by honorary guests, including one of globally recognised innovators in Southern Africa – Dr S. Ngcobo known for his revolutionary digital laser invention.
During the networking dinner, Dr Tichaona Mangwende, Programme Coordinator of NEPAD NSTIH, remarked on the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship to boost the private sector in the region as currently the region is well known to be skewed toward public sector institutions. In addition, Ms Phumelele Higgins, Director of Africa Multilateral Cooperation at DST, emphasised the importance of regional collaboration as well as joint efforts between the public and private sector.
The training is expected to vastly improve the quality of the proposals, taking into account the call’s emphasis on the late stages of the biosciences value chain, and – based on the feedback from participants – it is safe to say that everyone learned about a new way of approaching research and development in biosciences.
For the gallery of images taken during the training, click here.