jeudi 7 octobre 2010

A New Approach to Green Tech Opportunities

L’innovation, ce n’est pas forcément la recherche-développement: c’est le message, fort et clair, de cet article de l’excellente Harvard Business Review, qui propose une « nouvelle approche » pour la greentech : revisiter les technologies déjà existantes pour les rendre moins chères et plus performantes. Les auteurs, qui travaillent sur une grande étude sur ce sujet, suggèrent même que les sociétés désireuses de développer leur portfolio de greentech doivent soigneusement constituer leurs équipes, en laissant par exemple la porte ouverte aux « généralistes » susceptibles de penser avec créavitité aux opportunités de march

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Last year, venture capitalists invested $ 4.9 billion into the green technology sector. Add to that the infusions of government stimuli and considerable tax credits enjoyed by firms developing green technologies, and it's no wonder the cries of a "green bubble" are growing louder.

Our prediction, based on new research findings that we're just now disclosing, is that the bubble prophets will be right — huge amounts of money will be poured into bold but vainglorious new R&D programs and lost. As in any other areas of radical innovation, one can expect that about 90% of all green innovation attempts will fail, and with those failures most of the invested dollars will be gone.

Our research suggests that there's a different approach, allowing you to reap opportunity at much lower cost. Our studies of several hundred technological innovations tell us that we can benefit hugely if we stop equating innovation with new R&D effort, and instead revisit the buried potential of already existing technologies.
When applied to the new green opportunity space, fallow technologies could yield considerable payoffs at very low cost. Take the technology that started in the sky and ended up in the sea, Universal Remediation Inc.'s PRP powder, currently being used to deal with BP's oil spill disaster in the Gulf. The product delivery system makes use of microencapsulation technology originally developed by a consortium of firms working with NASA . In the oil-spill application, the beeswax nanospheres absorb oil, up to 20 times their weight , are impervious to water, and attract natural organisms which eat both the beeswax and oil, dying off after consumption.

In our decade long research, we found that firms would rather pursue new technological development than explore whether existing technologies can be applied to new opportunities, like the green space. In no small part this is due to the fact that many firms are heavily vested in technical R&D capabilities and relatively underinvested, or not invested at all, in capabilities to systematically identify further market opportunities for their existing technologies.

This is ironic, in that firms have deep experience with their existing technologies, so leveraging existing technology into a new domain is typically much less expensive than the development of entirely new technology.

Our work suggests a number of interesting new challenges for building green opportunity portfolios, starting with the way we assemble teams to identify new opportunities. Typically, the employees assigned to work on technology market identification — marketing and/or technology specialists — underperform when compared with teams augmented with other players such as generalists (e.g. experienced entrepreneurs) and upstream partners (e.g. potential suppliers), who can yield important downstream commercialization insights.

So before you launch an all R&D out effort to attack the green space, consider pushing your people to think about places where the firm's existing technologies could be directed to provide green solutions. It may be a lot faster and a lot cheaper.

Marc Gruber is Professor of Entrepreneurship and Technology Commercialization at the College of Management at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. James Thompson teaches innovation and entrepreneurship and is director of the Wharton Societal Wealth Program. Ian MacMillan is the Dhirubhai Ambani Professor at The Wharton School, interested and active in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship

SOURCE : Harvard Business Review

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