Taking The NanoPulse -- True partnerships. Without Them: No Next-Generation Products.

Partnerships are the reality of commercialization. How good are yours?

You have a product that could that could be improved with nanotechnology. Or, you have a technology that could improve a product. Either way, you don't have all the resources in house to get to market. Now what?

I've been nano-izing products for more than two decades, and it's taught me this lesson: you don't often get to choose the next project - you need to meet the next need. The market tells you what to do. Success requires you to flexible and agile. A big part of that agility is being able to bring together all the right resources quickly. And that often means bringing in outside partners in one of a thousand specialties.

"Partnership" is one of those words that gets bandied about pretty loosely. Everyone from your banker to your newspaper delivery guy talks about building a partnership. I have my own definition. I'm not a vendor partner, I'm not a contract lab partner. I'm a full partner. We all have a seat at the table and voice in the project.

That's because the only advantage in partnership is when everyone brings something to the table. If they don't -- or if they aren't permitted to -- the partnership fails -- and the product is in jeopardy.

So, how do I define a partner? I firmly believe it's a matter of "who," not "what." Who is on the partner's team? I expect to have access to the full range of specialists - R&D, Marketing, Manufacturing -- because that's who I'm bringing. We need everyone who adds insight to the project to be in the room. It should be top-level people, too, because that's the measure of commitment -- and predictor of success.

I also believe in having those who hold the purse strings involved in the discussions early -- and often. I've found that people without budgetary control are often focused on a successful project, or a successful process. People with bottom line responsibility insist on a successful product -- because that's where money invested delivers payback...or not.

So how do you start? At the top. If I see potential, I try to work CEO to CEO to gauge the possibilities, looking for a sense of a sustainable relationship. If that's a bad fit...it's a bad omen.

The next step is to let teams test out the relationship. If there seems to be a possibility, design a small manageable test project. Try to define every expectation carefully -- including the timeframe. I've found that's the best way to get positive results -- or to walk away from an unsuccessful project with an open door for the next time.

What's your track record for commercialization success? Whether it's strong or weak, I suspect a look at the nature of your partnerships will tell you what you did right --- or what you need to do better. More important, it gives you clear guidelines for the next project. So get started. Your partners -- and the marketplace -- are waiting.

Scott E. Rickert is chief executive of Nanofilm, Ltd., located in Valley View, Ohio. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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