Techno-Entrepreneurship

The value of an innovative idea increases with commercialization potential. It further increases with the presence of a skilled and qualified techno-entrepreneur capable of taking the idea to the market. For this reason, countries have designed and implemented support mechanisms and programs to encourage techno-entrepreneurship endeavors. Programs that encourage small domestic businesses and/ or individuals to engage in R&D and innovation activities with commercialization potential include the SBIR Program (USA), the Individual Entrepreneurship Multi-Phased Support and Co-Financing Programs (Turkey), and the PRISM Program (India).

The Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Program, coordinated by the US Small Business Administration, is one of the most well-known schemes. The program enables small businesses to explore their ideas' technological potential and provides an incentive to profit from their commercialization potential. Eleven federal agencies that have a total extramural R&D budget in excess of

$100 million allocate a certain percentage of their budget to the SBIR Program. Approximately $2.5 billion is awarded through this program annually [15]. The program has three phases with monetary contracts and/or grants awarded in Phases I and II [16]. At the end of the third phase, small businesses are expected to meet specific R&D government needs and commercialize their ideas.

• Phase I (start-up phase) supports the exploration of the technical merit or feasibility of an idea or technology and awards up to $150,000 for approximately six months.

• Phase II provides grants to facilitate the expansion of the results that are

obtained from the start-up phase. Up to $1 million for two years is awarded to Phase II grant holders, who will perform R&D work and evaluate the commercialization potential of their idea.

• Phase III is designed to accommodate the time for an innovation to move from the

laboratory into the marketplace. Small businesses must find private sector funding or non-SBIR federal agency funding. No SBIR funds are awarded in this phase.

The National Science Foundation's (NSF) implementation of the SBIR Program provides direct linkages between SBIR and some of the other support programs. As one of the schemes, I-Corps provides private sector co-financing and mentorship. Similarly, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) presents the Commercialization Assistance Program (CAP) as a supplementary tool to the SBIR program. CAP aims to provide small businesses in the health sector with business mentorship to raise the commercialization potential of the outputs of SBIR projects.

In Turkey, entrepreneurs are supported for their activities across the entire spectrum from the idea creation to the commercialization stage in an integrated manner. The Individual Entrepreneurship Multi-Phased Support Program (TÜB˙ITAK

1512) [17] aims to support individuals or technology-based start-up firms with ideas that hold promise for transformation into innovative products and services for the domestic or international markets. The program, which is designed and implemented by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜB˙ITAK), targets various stages of maturity in R&D-based entrepreneurship activities. The program, which has a total of four phases, integrates grant-based financial support with mentorship support opportunities. Entrepreneurs, including academics not familiar with business matters, are given opportunities to receive training on technical, commercial, and executive issues, as well as mentorship from industrially experienced mentors.

• Phase 1: The program starts with the presentation of a business idea by the entrepreneur to TÜB˙ITAK. Upon a positive evaluation, the entrepreneur is provided the option of obtaining entrepreneurship training. Phase 1 corresponds to the stage of idea creation and ends with the detailed preparation of the business plan and training.

• Phase 2: Upon further successful evaluation, the entrepreneur receives grant support to realize the business plan and establish the start-up. The start-up is supported with about $50,000 of seed capital with the aim of having a technological validation of the proposed idea within 12 months. The activities that may be undertaken at this phase include conceptual design, technical and economic feasibility studies, and technological affirmation (pre-prototype, demonstration, simulation, code algorithm, etc.). The entrepreneur also has the option to request mentorship support. Those firms that demonstrate commercial potential in their outputs may directly skip to Phase 4.

• Phase 3: This phase provides grant support to conduct any additional R&D

studies that may be needed to further develop the commercialization potential of the outputs of the previous phase. To receive funding for this phase, the entrepreneur must submit a project application, now as an established firm, to the SME R&D Grant Program (TÜB˙ITAK 1507). In this phase, 75 % of eligible project expenses up to $250,000 are grant support entitled. These activities may include detailed design, development of a commercial prototype, experiments, and field tests. Projects that pass the technological affirmation phase are evaluated using special criteria. For those projects that complete this phase successfully, firms may receive approval to pass to Phase 4, upon the preparation of a robust commercialization business plan.

• Phase 4: This phase corresponds to the process of facilitating the entrepreneur's access to finance. Upon the request of the firm, TÜB˙ITAK sends letters to risk capital firms inviting them to be a partner to the project output. In addition, TÜB˙ITAK organizes project brokerage events to facilitate the commercialization process of the products.

In the two years since the program's inception, a total of 239 R&D start-ups have been successfully created, the majority of which have commercialized their research outputs.

In addition to TÜB˙ITAK 1512, an additional version of the program was established as the Individual Entrepreneurship Multi-Phased Co-Financing Program (TÜB˙ITAK 1512/B) with the purpose of facilitating the access of start-ups to equity financing. In this version, large firms are invited to partner with TÜB˙ITAK to support start-ups by providing incubation, co-financing, mentorship, and the potential of being the first customer of their products. The program increases the entrepreneur's chances of survival in the market. As a means to complement the TÜB˙ITAK 1512 Program, this version enables entrepreneurs to take advantage of the experience of the private sector and their provision of seed capital support, office or rent support for a year, technical expert personnel, and business development [17].

In the Indian context, Promoting Innovations in Individuals, Start-Ups and MSME's Program (PRISM), is implemented by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) of India and applies a multi-staged approach to supporting entrepreneurs. Any individual with an idea can be supported to transform the idea into a commercially viable product or process. In the proof-of-concept stage, up to $35,000 or 90 % of the eligible project costs are supported. In the following stage, which may include real site tests and demonstration, an additional

$350,000 or 90 % of the eligible project costs can be supported. The duration of the projects can vary between six months and three years, depending on the scope of the idea. As the name of the program suggests, PRISM seeks to 'open up' the full commercialization potential of the idea [18].

 
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