Chuck Bokath is a wizard with commercial wireless systems and related cybersecurity. But the Georgia Tech innovator had much to learn about marketing and developing a business plan when commercializing technology originally developed to benefit the military.
To help inventors and would-be entrepreneurs such as Bokath, the Georgia Tech Research Corporation developed the Georgia Tech Integrated Program for Startups (GT:IPS). The program offers online courses to help university faculty and employees develop the skills that can help them succeed.
The courses cover key information that entrepreneurs might not easily find elsewhere, such has how to develop a persuasive elevator pitch, assemble an effective management team, and navigate the complexities of intellectual property (IP) law.
Once they have completed the courses, participants qualify for an optional pre-negotiated license that provides them with the best royalty terms available for commercializing Georgia Tech innovations.
Access self-paced online courses
To participate, Georgia Tech faculty and other employees simply sign up at the program Web page to take the self-paced online curriculum. Coursework, which is available on demand, includes a mix of audio and audio with video.
Four required classes provide deep insight into company creation, IP issues, business opportunities, and related conflicts of interest. Participants then choose two electives, depending on their startup’s focus:
- Funding options
- Patenting strategies
- Consulting and other restrictive covenants
- Use of Georgia Tech facilities
- Food and Drug Administration approval process for medical devices
- Export control
- Panel of entrepreneurs
Hit the ground better prepared
Bokath, a senior research engineer at Georgia Tech’s Information Communications Lab and CEO of Blind Tiger Communications, developed a technology that allows users to manage mobile devices over a specific geographic area, and prevent explosives triggered by those phones. Beyond the technology’s ability to save lives in military settings, Bokath believed numerous entities could benefit from controlling phone use, such as prisons, corporate boardrooms, and hospitals.
Bokath wasn’t “completely green” about launching a spinoff, he says. He’d been involved in a couple of previous startups. However, now that Bokath has completed the GT:IPS courses on funding, marketing, and developing a powerhouse business plan, Blind Tiger Communications is poised to be even more successful, he says.
“The program helps take the mystery out of IP laws,” Bokath says of commercializing intellectual property. “You learn what you need to know so you don’t end up in an orange jumpsuit.”
His team pursued and received offers of venture funding. However, insights gained from the program into honing his company’s business plan and marketing effort should provide an even bigger payoff, he says.
The course material helped his company evaluate numerous startup models, including one that explores targeting different industries and customers until the right niche is discovered. Bokath’s team initially tried to match its radio frequency (RF) technology to Drug Enforcement Agency needs.
“It wasn’t quite the right fit,” he realized after doing a deep dive into how various agencies and industries operate using marketing techniques learned in the GT:IPS courses. Fortuitously, the state of Georgia then approached Bokath with a request to potentially serve the prison industry. Penitentiaries increasingly work to control prisoners who use unauthorized cell phones to operate illegal businesses, hatch new crimes, and launder money. Bokath’s RF technology could help them squash such activity. It appears to be a great fit, he says.
He also discovered other industries can benefit by controlling phone use within hospitals, thereby protecting patients who increasingly receive support from wireless telemetry and other devices. Likewise, the technology can help ensure sensitive information remains confidential in corporate meeting and boardrooms and not streamed over an open cell phone line, for example, Bokath says.
Because the company was able to avoid accepting expensive venture funding, “Now, all the equity will be ours to use on what we see fit,” he says. “It was nice to know what the VCs could do for you, though.” And learning from presenters who in some cases had launched their own successful startups, “was huge,” Bokath says.
License negotiations simplified
After successfully completing the courses, well-primed entrepreneurs can choose to take advantage of an optional pre-negotiated licensing agreement offered by the Georgia Tech Research Corporation. This option can save participants months or weeks of negotiating, and also provides the best terms available historically. That means participants pay the lowest Georgia Tech royalty fees the university has previously levied for each particular type of technology.
“GT:IPS provides a streamlined way to take the tech out of the university, and at lower royalty rate, so it’s less financially encumbering on the startup,” Bokath says. “There are other universities trying to do this in a streamlined fashion, but Georgia Tech has really nailed it.”
Today, Blind Tiger Communications is approaching several industries for applying the RF technology.
“We expect to sign our first prison facility customer in the coming weeks,” he says.
To learn more and sign up, visit the program Web page.