They are a few lessons ATS can take away from SRI’s approach to commercializing their government-funded technology. Most notably, is that they actually have a process to identify, vet and launch compelling commercial businesses. A few other things are worth noting:
1) They proactively test for market acceptance. “Each year, SRI tests the marketability of roughly 2,000 technology ventures, but typically only three or four are ever established as independent businesses.” The numbers aren’t nearly as important as the fact that SRI believes in finding commercial outlets and they have established processes and dedicated resources as testament to that believe.
2) They actively engage entrepreneurs, investors, outside industry leaders and customers. See the Commercialization Board shown on the blackboard in the picture. While ATS has been successful at establishing productive relationships with academics, and to a certain extent industry leaders in the form of consultants, as an organization, we don’t have meaningful connections to the investment community, we do not engage startups as purposefully as we should, and we make very little effort to really understand commercial customers.
3) They work in areas with tremendous commercial crossover appeal. AI, machine learning, data mining, translation, etc. all have obvious government and military appeal – this is why they’re funded so readily. However, they also have tremendous commercial appeal across several application domains. While we certainly do information services and data analysis type work for the government, a large chunk of our focus is on networks and networking. And right now, the commercialization market favors services over networks. This might shift in years to come, but there’s more commercial need and dollars available for things like complex event processing than for things like secure mobile ad hoc networks.