The chemical business is, after all, a business. You have to make something that somebody wants. Brilliant ideas are a dime a dozen. Getting a new product to market is harder than you might expect, even if you have a purchase order in hand. The transition from bench to 1000 gallon reactor is often full of unanticipated problems. The process of forcing a new product or technology on a market that didn’t exactly ask for might be called “Technology Push”. The process of responding directly to a clear market demand is called “Market Pull”.
Market pull is a force that business types, especially the MBA’s, feel best about. It is easy to justify the allocation of resources to launch into a product development cycle that addresses a clear and quantifiable demand. Duh. It’s a no-brainer. That is, if there are no bottlenecks to get through. The merits of market pull are only valid if the proposed technology has been shown to work to specifications. Beware of the inventor who cannot produce a prototype to back his/her patent.
Technology push is a circumstance wherein a company has a product or technology that might stimulate demand if it were marketed properly. Now, an economist might say that there is no such thing as stimulating demand. They’ll patiently explain that this only stimulates an underlying demand that may not have been articulated. Whatever formalism you prefer, it is possible to dazzle potential customers with a new capability. Clever people can dream up applications that the original inventors could have never anticipated. Look at Symyx with their fantastic technology package for high throughput experimentation.
It is a bit easier to write a business plan based on market pull because the job of forecasting revenue flows should be based on measurable market conditions. Again, the assumption is that the proposed response to the market pull is a technology that works.
A business plan based on technology push has to incorporate estimates of acceptance of change. You see, technology push is the realm of the paradigm shift. Predicting outcomes from the early side of the timeline is very tricky. Customers for paradigm shift technologies may be scarce. Not all companies are interested in being an early adopter or a buyer of first generation technology.
Market pull is the domain of orthodoxy, of the rightous and proper company president who is also a CPA and who worked his way up the ladder from the accounts receivable department. Technology push is the domain of the engineers and scientists. These are the dreamers who know in their hearts that if you build it, they will come.
Successful technology companies are somehow able to give a voice to the technology people in the allocation of resources. Very often, these companies are managed by chemical engineers. While ChemE’s may not be trained in advanced synthesis R&D, they are involved in the scale up and economics of new processes. Chemists live in a 2-dimensional world of space and time. Chemical engineers live in the 3-dimensional world of space, time, and money. Their knowledge of economics is what causes them to rise to the top of the corporate ladder more frequently than chemists.
It seems to me that companies that thrive today are those who do both market pull and technology push. Market pull is the cash cow. Technology push is the seed corn for next years crop.