Technology Catalysts Inc., an Arlington firm, put on a trade fair last week to try to match money with technologies that aren't even out of pre-patent research stages.
According to Roland Tibbets, manager of the National Science Foundation's small business research and development program, "This is the first trade fair that concentrates on R & D." he matchmaking went on at the Shoreham Hotel, where 250 small high technology firms serenaded about 75 big firms like Eastman Kodak, Dupont, Monsanto and Procter & Gamble, and a few venture capital companies. Fourteen Washington area research firms attended the three-day fair.
About half the participants got initial funding from the NSF small business innovation research program, Richard DiCicco, president of TCI, said. Added William Breslin, TCI's director of research and development, "we have made a real effort to get the companies that have proved to NSF" that the technologies are "practical, at least on paper."
Many of the other companies brought technologies in a demonstration stage, or already patented. Most of them were looking for funds to commercialize their ideas, or for new commercial applications.
The problem R&D companies face in the early research stages is stimulating a big corporate bureaucracy to fund further research. They must also compete for the attention of venture capitalists who are innundated with ideas. "We want the small firms to get a shot at the firms that will provide follow-on capital," NSF's Tibbets said.
According to TCI's Breslin, some large firms turned down the invitation to attend, saying they were only interested in demonstrated technologies. DiCicco said of 400 venture capital firms invited, only 20 attended because most "VCs" aren't really interested in R&D. The groups that came were the "visionaries," DiCicco added.
Joseph Lahoud, president of Greenbriar Systems, Inc., a Fairfax firm, said research firms are in a "Catch-22" situation. The large firms and VCs often won't invest until the project for which money is needed is already complete, he said.
B. L. Williams, director of the feedstock division for Monsanto, said he attended the fair because "we do about 90 percent of our 'D' in-house, but we're looking most everywhere for 'R.' "
Most of the small firms were expecting to do no more than make contacts with the people in the corporate bureaucracy who can help them win licensing or joint venture agreements, or win contracts to do new research projects.
However, some of the companies said the way the fair was set up prevented the face-to-face meetings it sought to encourage. Each company had 15 minutes to describe its technology, or its research needs. Presentations were made simultaneously in four different rooms. In two large halls, participants had display tables where meetings could be held to discuss technology. But because there were few breaks in the presentation schedule, most of the meeting tables were not staffed.
DiCicco said next year's fair at the Shoreham will allow for more meeting time.
Despite the tight scheduling, others said the fair was worthwhile. Greenbriar's Lahoud went to discuss his firm's method for automatically testing spot welds made by industrial robots. The prospecting brought out several leads, he said.
Dr. Waheed Khan, president of HAQ Biomedical in Gaithersburg, said he was "pleasantly surprised." He was contacted by several major medical firms about his home test kit for gonorrhea, he said.
DASI, Inc., got some new ideas for commercial applications of its technology. John Nahra, president of the Chevy Chase firm, said he has a patented process for sterilizing milk so completely, and without affecting its taste, that it can be stored for about two months without refrigeration.
According to Nahra, Eastman Kodak Co. thought the process might be useful for sterilizing developer gelatins. American Hospital Supply Corp. pointed to its need to sterilize medical liquids. And the representative from Adolph Coors Co., the brewer, was interested as well, Nahra said.
DiCicco also introduced Nahra to Arun Chattergi, president of Technology Transfer Concepts International. Although Chattergi was there to market his own technologies, he said he is interested in arranging licensing for Nahra's process in Third World countries such as India. Chattergi said part of his business is international marketing of technologies.
The weather was a problem for the fair. According to DiCicco, a few participants were snowed into Boston and New York on Tuesday, the first day of the fair, and couldn't fit it into their schedules later. They will get refunds, and TCI will end up losing some money on the fair, he said.
Overall, DiCicco said the fair was a success. He said it was the first time that some of the large firms like DuPont and Kendall Co., maker of Curie products, actually spelled out the kind of research they want done. Normally, said one participant, researchers have to guess the needs of potential sponsors, and hope a research proposal fills them.
TCI expects to get about 10 new customers as a result of the fair, DiCicco said. CI is a three-year-old firm with about $3 million in annual sales. The company provides a technology data base to 407 firms that pay a $7,500 retainer fee. TCI also offers marketing services to small high technology firms. Representing both the small and the big firms makes for easier matches, said Breslin.
Breslin said the firm offers a "nonbiased third party viewpoint." He added, "We are not out scavenging the countryside for interests we can promote." TCI does not charge by commission on the matches it makes.
DiCicco got into the business through Control Data, Inc, where he helped develop Technotec, a data base designed to hook up buyers and sellers of technology.
DiCicco, an electrical engineering and business school graduate, said he is hoping to double the size of the fair next year.