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Assistive Technology Transfer Update


Title: Accomplishing Supply Push Technology Transfer
Author: James A Leahy
Published: 2003
Publication: Assistive Technology Transfer Update: Vol. 5 (Spring) Annual Report, 2001-2002

Mr. James Leahy directs the T2RERC's Supply push technology transfer program. Supply Push projects start with an advanced technology or novel prototype product seeking an appropriate application. A supply push program assumes that its technologies and products will add value to the product lines available in the marketplace. In this case, the application domain is improving the functional capabilities of people with disabilities. This focus helps develop an in-depth knowledge about that market, which reduces ambiguity in decisions about that market's requirements.

This process represents a traditional supply push program, where a corporation licenses a candidate technology for commercialization. The T2RERC has also developed some alternative paths to market that circumvent particularly formidable barriers to success. One barrier is the inability to conclusively demonstrate to a company, the presence of a market for the candidate technology/prototype. The barrier is amplified for product's targeted at niche markets. E-commerce companies provide an interim distribution step for demonstrating market demand, particularly for niche market products. Ecommerce sites are able to disseminate product information to niche markets with widely diffused customers, based on key topic words. The E-commerce site offers access to the product while the developer maintains a limited production inventory, shipped as customers place orders. The level of Internet sales over time provides all parties with data for estimating market demand. To ensure the data is valid, it is important that the e-commerce price be comparable to the price required to cover the additional mark-ups for traditional retail outlets. This data is a surrogate measure of the product's mass market appeal.

The other formidable barrier to success is the absence of awareness of a new market opportunity. A sufficiently advanced technology or innovative product design, may present an opportunity that falls outside a manufacturer's current experience. In a supply push model, the developer or broker bears the responsibility for demonstrating the new market's potential for the manufacturer. The T2RERC accomplishes this through market cultivation. For these cases, instead of approaching the manufacturer, the T2RERC contacts some of the manufacturer's customers. The targeted customers must have sufficient capital to function as early adopters, use innovation to gain strategic market advantages, and influence their competitors demand for innovations. Once these targeted customers are convinced of the new technology/product value, their buying power serves as sufficient justification for a manufacturer to pursue the market opportunity. This market cultivation yields a convergence of a new technology/product opportunity, a motivated manufacturer and a receptive customer.

Accomplishing Supply Push technology transfer requires a comprehensive understanding of the stakeholders in the industry, their product lines and development cycles. In addition to employing carriers to address the barriers noted earlier, the program staff must be prepared to pursue alternative paths to the marketplace. Advancing the state-of-the-science requires programs operating on the supply push model, to focus their efforts on targeted industries offering some strategic value to their internal missions.

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