The modern mythos of 20th century American industry includes many stories of businesses being founded in a garage. As the stories go, a few plucky founders will construct a widget in their garage and, with prototype in hand, look for a way to get the product to customers. Famously, Apple computer and Hewlett Packard were founded in this manner.

What you don’t often hear about is the extent to which the founders might have performed a market study to ascertain the potential demand in the market. Possibly because the frequency of this ground work is near zero. Certainly the founders had some sense that like-minded folk would want copies of their products. In other words, if you build it, at least a few will come.

Similarly, one doesn’t hear so much about the rate of failure either. How many storage lockers are crammed with the remains of a failed business plan?  Probably more than a few.

What every technological entrepreneur eventually has to come to grips with is this- who are the customers and how can you get the message of new capability to them? Seth Godin has some interesting ideas about this. Godin suggests that in todays information saturated market place, the critical customers are the innovators and the early adopters.

So here is the big question- Why don’t we hear more about chemists launching businesses out of a garage?  Better yet, how might the chemical industry be different if more chemists did start a chemical business in this celebrated manner?  Most might agree that the culture of entrepreurialism that Wozniak, Jobs, Packard, Hewlett, and Gates picked up and ran with dramatically accelerated the growth of the electronics industry. But fewer might agree on what clues these founders took as their cue to risk everything. How does a fledgeling chemical entrepreneur know if the idea, process, or material of interest is worthy of risking the family nest egg?

On the next posting, we’ll talk about some of the factors that a chemical entrepreneur might face in getting started.

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