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Assistive Technology Transfer Update


Title: Accomplishing Demand Pull Technology Transfer
Author: Stephen M Bauer
Published: 2003
Publication: Assistive Technology Transfer Update: Vol. 5 (Spring) Annual Report, 2001-2002

Dr. Steven Bauer directs the T2RERC's Demand Pull technology transfer program. Demand Pull projects start with an opportunity to improve a product's features or functions that cannot be addressed by that industry's technological capabilities. The assistive technology industry is comprised of multiple small markets, with many products requiring medical prescription or third-party reimbursement for payment. Since multiple stakeholders play a role in defining and shaping market demands, the manufacturer's path to market can be circuitous. These stakeholders include product developers, clinicians, teachers and counselors, family members, consumers and reimbursement agencies. To ensure the identified needs are valid, and to set their priority, the T2RERC seeks a consensus among these various stakeholders. The likelihood of market success increases when all stakeholders agree on a need and place the same priority on it, because they will cooperate to overcome barriers in the process.

The validation process yields a set of problem statements expressed in language familiar to that industry. The next step involves translating these industry problem statements into technical specifications divorced from the application context. This step is critical to making the problem statements accessible to technology developers working in unrelated fields. The T2RERC screens submissions upon receipt. Since the market and customer requirements are already validated, the screening focuses on the submission's match to the technical specifications. Follow-up contacts establish the developer's conditions for transfer via license or sale. The entire package is then offered to manufacturer's that claimed interest in the subject technologies.

Promising technologies follow several paths to market. A manufacturer may acquire the technology for internal development. A manufacturer may form a joint venture with the technology developer. The technology developer may pursue their own product development efforts to penetrate a new market for their proprietary technology. Regardless of the path chosen, the T2RERC provides brokering and follow-through support as needed. Although it functions as a technology transfer broker, the T2RERC's mission is not accomplished until a new or improved product is introduced to the assistive technology marketplace. This bottom-line focus is critical to ensuring that the transfers result in successful commercialization.

The Demand Pull approach simplifies the process of matching needs and solutions, by starting with a clear definition of a need. When successful, a technology developer acquires a new market at little or no additional cost, while a manufacturer (technology consumer) gains access to new product features or functions without the associated research and development costs. Implementing a systematic process for technology transfer within a niche market such as assistive devices, demonstrates its value for mainstream markets. Increasing Demand Pull activity in the private sector requires government agencies and companies to recognize this approach as a cost effective alternative to internal technology development. To avoid having competitors know their intended targets, companies may have to work through a surrogate organization or persuade Federal agencies to sponsor the activity.

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