Converting Technology Innovation Into Successful Businesses

 Nikhil Balram

On September 17 and 18, 2013, the CMU Portugal Program received the visit of Nikhil Balram, CEO of Ricoh Innovations Corporation (RIC) and a CMU Electrical and Computer Engineering alumnus. The two goals of the visit were to provide Nikhil Balram with a view of R&D and technology commercialization efforts in Portugal, and to create opportunities for him to share his expertise in transforming technical innovation into sustainable commercial success.

The first moment in an intensive two-day agenda was a talk at Porto Business School, on the evening of September 17, on “Going From Technology Innovation to Sustainable Business Success.” In this session, Nikhil Balram presented four case studies from his own experience to show that “going from technology innovation to sustainable business success is often a long and complex process with a low probability of success.” Two of the cases were in semiconductor, and another was in consumer electronics. The fourth and most recent one is in “mobile and cloud software and is a work in progress.” For each of the cases, he explained the underlying technology innovations, the market and business situations at the time, the decisions that were made, as well as the outcomes. As common threads in the cases, he highlighted the need for high-tech businesses to “own an axis” of performance, “take a system view” of the market, and “understand the slope” that is leading the world into the future.

On September 18, Nikhil Balram met with Jorge Gonçalves, vice-rector of the Universidade do Porto, and with several CEOs of startups incubated at UPTEC, the Science and Technology Park of the Universidade do Porto. During this session, the CEO of Ricoh had the opportunity to ask some questions about the organizational model of the incubator, and explain the organizational architecture that he has been implementing at RIC, which integrates technology, business expertise and end-users. Nikhil Balram clarified that startups need to work hard to identify and validate their business model, and need to be aware that it is difficult to get the first clients and that profit requires the ability to scale.

This meeting at UPTEC was followed by a CMU Portugal working session titled “Converting Technology into Products and Services,” that brought together several researchers at CISTER’s auditorium. João Barros, from FEUP/IT and co-founder of the startups Veniam and Streambolico, João Paulo Cunha, from FEUP/INESC TEC and principal investigator of the Vital Responder project, Vítor Grade Tavares, from FEUP/INESC TEC and principal investigator of the SELF-PVP project, and Nuno Pereira, from ISEP/CISTER/INESC TEC and researcher of the SeNoDs project, actively participated in this working session, presenting outcomes, challenges, and market opportunities. Each presentation was followed by a discussion about business models and product ideas in order to explore the potential of each project. Nikhil Balram also discussed the research outcomes and the next steps that could be put in to place to convert technology into products and services. This session provided important feedback for the researchers, based on Nikhil Balram’s experience in creating successful new technology ventures.

Nikhil Balram at CISTER 

The visit was concluded with Nikhil Balram’s participation in a session of Biodesign Innovation, a course in the final year of the Integrated Master in Bioengineering at Faculdade de Engenharia of the Universidade do Porto (FEUP). Nikhil Balram gave a talk on “The Infinite Network and the needs of Smart Health Care.” In this year’s edition of the course, about 40 students are working in seven teams to identify and develop commercialization pathways for medical device technologies created in research units associated with the Universidade do Porto (IBMC, INEB, and INESC TEC). Throughout the semester the students meet with patients, doctors, nurses, managers, and industry executives, among others, to develop, describe, assess, and iterate on a commercialization opportunity for their technology. The teams work specifically on: needs screening, need statement development, disease state fundamentals analysis, treatment options analysis, stakeholder analysis, market analysis, and needs filtering; solution concept generation and screening; development strategy and planning, intellectual property strategy, regulatory strategy; and business model definition. The course is led by João Claro, from FEUP/INESC TEC and national director of the CMU Portugal Program, Catarina Maia, from FEUP/INESC TEC, and Paulo Osswald, from FEUP.

Nikhil Balram is President and CEO of Ricoh Innovations Corporation, Silicon Valley Company that develops innovative technologies and creates new businesses. With over 20 years of experience, he is widely hailed throughout the industry and academia as an expert and innovator in video and display technologies across multiple platforms and has been an officer of several publicly listed companies. He has won numerous awards including a 2012 Gold Stevie® Award for Executive of the Year in the Electronics category in The 9th Annual International Business Awards.

October 2013