Tech Scouting: Looking for Opportunities

Article #2: Looking for Opportunities

Most companies are continually looking for opportunities to grow their product portfolios, move into new markets and make a significant impact on business.  Whether ‘transformative’ or expansionary, the key questions are:  How do you focus your search?  Where should you look?

First, opportunities are not limited to technologies.  While new and/or disruptive technologies can give you competitive advantage, other reasons to go outside include market access (customer base, distribution, brand, etc.), competencies (technical, marketing, business) and funding –as well as ideas related to serviceability, sustainability, and other attributes.  Increasingly companies are exploring open innovation partnerships in emerging markets such as China and India where growth opportunities are greater.

Regardless, the most important driver is customer need.  Ideally you will match a new technology or idea to a large, unmet and compelling need.  (Remember that invention is not the same as innovation.)

Expert Jay Paap (Management Roundtable conference chair and workshop leader), advises scouts to:

  • Seek problems, not solutions – identify the gap(s), don’t presume the answers
  • Think generically
  • Look everywhere
  • Manage internal experts
  • Keep options open

The higher the potential value of an innovation, the further and deeper you may need to look.  You must keep an open mind and be willing to look at unconventional sources.  The search should be both internal and external, span different industries and geographies, and be multidisciplinary.

Screening – to be discussed in a future article – will narrow the field, but in the search phase, cast a wide net.  Ideas truly can come from anywhere.

  • Examples: Corning deploys both “opportunity scouts” and “tech scouts,” working with Opportunity Identification Teams that include marketing and technology experts, all connected with deep networks of external technology experts and business leaders.
  • Monsanto’s Technology Prospecting team maximizes both internal and external networks to find the most promising innovations.
  • Northrop Grumman, MIT, Carnegie Mellon and Purdue created a dynamic university-industry collaboration to commercialize early stage technologies.
  • HP Labs Innovation Research Program solicits proposals against a specific set of targeted research topics– Awards are offered, ranging from $50-$100K per year, up to 3 year projects.  HP Labs also collaborates with customers and universities, using different frameworks for each.
  • GlaxoSmithKline and many other life sciences firms are exploring R&D partnerships in Taizhou, aka China Medical City (CMC) – a hub for accelerated innovation in pharmaceuticals, biotech and biochemicals.
  • China is also where GE’s Ecomagination Challenge has just been launched with a $100 million contest to fund innovative gas-energy projects (similar to the company’s US-based programs.)  Revenue from its global “ecomagination” program is expected to be around $21 billion this year.

This article published in conjunction with MRT’s workshop series:
Technology Scouting to Accelerate Innovation – Implementing an External Sourcing Program – check our website for the latest dates and locations of this popular seminar.

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Places to Look

The spectrum of potential partners and resources is vast, and the choices are numerous: brokers and intermediaries, industry supplier networks, universities, government labs, science parks, entrepreneurs, industry associations, conferences/trade shows, online databases and more.  It is important to cultivate multiple networks and hunting grounds – your goals and corporate culture will fit better with some more than others.

Below is a partial listing of global resources culled from speakers and participants at recent Management Roundtable events.  Please note – this listing does not imply endorsement, and information can change.


Brokers, intermediaries, advisers

Venture Capital

Universities and Research Laboratories

Search Tools and Databases

Intellectual Property

Innovation and Invention Service Providers


3 thoughts on “Tech Scouting: Looking for Opportunities

  1. Vera Hruba says:

    Thank you very much for this summarising article. I has been very helpful, especially the webside references part.

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