Entering the Dragon's Den


A question to researchers...

Do you find you are confident when presenting your research at scientific conferences, yet nervous and stuttering when talking to a prospective industry partner or funder for your research? Or perhaps you feel confident but you see their eyes glaze over within the first few minutes and you know you have lost them forever? What are the pitfalls and trigger points when we discuss research and technologies with Industry?


In truth, and this was hard for me to discover when I moved from being a student researcher in genetics to working for a government funding agency, industry does not want to hear about research per se, which has many of us hot with frustration. They want to hear about how it creates an OPPORTUNITY for them.


It is often hard to corner an industry player, or prospective funder, into a conversation, so when it happens, we need to make the most of the time we have with them. As much as I might have felt comfortable to spend hours talking about the progression of my research, how something was developed etc., I have come to realise that is going to put them off. At the end of the day, what the person potentially funding further development, or taking a technology and incorporating it into their own products/processes wants to know is: "What is in it for me?"


A first step may be to ask them what the typical problems they deal with are, or where they think a new or improved product may be needed? It may be that they express problems that you can immediately link with your research. But even if not, when next talking about your idea, I suggest your pitch is prepared by briefly answering the following questions:


  • What problem does my research/technology solve?
  • How does it solve the problem?
  • What is already out there and what makes mine better than what is already out there?
  • How much will it cost to implement or develop further?


Of course, this means that you have to have thought about all of these things up front, and researched potential competing technologies- be prepared for some difficult questions!


Lastly, what you pitch is probably secondary to who you are pitching to. Often researchers are connected with other researchers in industry. So we think we are talking to an industry player when in actual fact we are talking to an in-house researcher. We should be talking to the person who sets the strategic agenda in that company. Think CEO, COO. "How do you get to that person to have the conversation?" Use your contacts...all of them!



For assistance in presenting a technology (which is already developed) to industry, come and have a chat with someone at the Technology Transfer Unit of Wits, housed in Wits Enterprise or email me at

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