Asking the hard questions enables deep tech companies to survive
For tech-heavy companies who are early in their journey, one wrong decision or an overlooked detail can result in the inability to course correct. That’s why DTU Science Park specializes in asking the right questions
At DTU Science Park, 3,800 researchers, entrepreneurs, and business developers are housed under the same roof. Within and between their 290 companies, they are building the future. While big ideas and technically heavy solutions are at the heart of deep tech’s ability to change lives, the Park’s guiding philosophy is to question everything.
According to Steen Donner, the CEO of DTU Science Park: “We want to be a good sparring partner who asks the right questions. Companies must be challenged about what they are doing, and we try to be constructive throughout the process. By asking the right questions, they have the opportunity to reflect on and refine their ideas.”
There are no “right” answers
The community at DTU Science Park come from the world of research and technical solutions. This means that the more challenging questions they confront have to do with the business side of the company. In Donner’s words: “Many of the companies know the technological parts of their business. What we focus on and specialize in is their customers, the market, their level of ambition, and their business model.”
In the context of a strong technical team, there is a danger of staring blindly at the technology and the product itself. While technology is important, it is critical for there to be a market for the solution where it can actually create value.
As Donner sees it, “Companies need to be certain of who their customers are, how to create value for them, and why they should not buy the competitor’s product. That is critical to a good business. The challenge is that there are no unequivocally correct answers to many of the questions we ask them. That is why it is even more important that we ask the questions and reflect with the teams so that they can make an informed decision.”
From operation to development
One of the businesses in the Science Park is Copenhagen Trackers – the first company in the world to develop a GPS tracker that can be used throughout Europe, subscription free.
Christian Olesen, the director of development and sales at Copenhagen Trackers, describes their origin story as less about reaching the market and more about surrounding themselves with smart people: “In everyday life we have to execute above all, so it is important to be taken out of operating mode and back into development.”
Although the company has been in business for a year and has produced 10,000 trackers, the founders continue to push themselves to improve and grow. This does not mean that Copenhagen Trackers has started redeveloping the product from scratch or moved in an entirely new direction. Instead, following on the heels of the ‘Danish Tech Challenge,’ they are asking deeper questions that have brought a new focus to the company’s sales strategy.
Olesen explains: “We have started to see ourselves as a technology company rather than a product company. It doesn’t matter too much whether our name is on the hardware, as long as our technology is being used.” Copenhagen Trackers has discussed the prospect of selling their solution through a white-label model for a long time, but it has only been within the past 10 days that the conversation has begun to materialize into a strategy. For the company to succeed in becoming a supplier for others, they must assume a different place in the value chain and perhaps lower their ambitions for web shopping and retailers.
Giving him the last word, Olesen reflects: “Even though we are in the market and are already selling well, some people are suddenly asking if we could have sold even more if we had gone a different route.”
In the world of deep tech mistakes are costly
The practice of asking the hard questions at the right time is important for all kinds of companies and at every stage of their development. But mistakes in deep tech can quickly become much more expensive than in other industries. As Donner explains: “It is capital-intensive to bring new hardware and technology to the market. Therefore, the money must be spent in the right way. Otherwise, you can quickly burn a lot of money while running in the wrong direction.”
By definition, “deep tech” takes a long time to make its way to the market – sometimes up to 10 years. If you can reduce the development time by asking the right questions, there are great opportunities for profit.
Donner concludes: “We are trying to create a framework for companies to come to the market faster, easier, and more cost-effectively. And we can see that it works among those who are receptive, listen to the questions, and reflect before drawing conclusions.”