Hamid Bhatti is a Technology Commercialization Specialist for the Office of Technology Transfer at West Virginia University where he provides technology transfer, commercialization, and new business/partner development for all technologies that are related to health sciences and life sciences in the West Virginia University ecosystem. Prior to WVU, Hamid’s career has included cross functional leadership roles with several small businesses providing NSF I-Corps support, NIH SBIR/STTR support, FDA regulatory support, and an Intellectual Property consulting firm spun out of Deloitte managing university and federal clients throughout the world. Bhatti received his BA degree in Biology from Rutgers University and MD degree from Ross University. He is also a member with the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM). Bhatti brings over 10 years of experience working with researchers in the early stages of innovation to his role as a UNY I-Corps mentor. We recently spoke with Bhatti about his experience being a UNY I-Corps mentor and if he had any advice for startups completing or contemplating I-Corps.
What prompted you to begin mentoring for the I-Corps program?
Hamid Bhatti: A few years ago, the former director of technology transfer at Lehigh University had seen the commercialization efforts I had been involved in with early-stage ideas at different universities throughout the country, and how successful I had been in helping researchers identify funding opportunities along with addressing certain questions on grant submissions, which were not being addressed. He was aware that I had extensive outreach potential with industry contacts along with in-depth knowledge of the ecosystem from a commercialization perspective. Since my first experience, I realized that there was an unmet need for researchers, and I wanted to be able to fill that gap for them.
Of the teams you’ve mentored, are there any success stories that come to mind?
HB: One of the success stories that comes to mind is a team that, after completion of the I-Corps program, went on to receive a National Science Foundation (NSF) Partnerships for Innovation Technology Transfer (PFI-TT), working their way towards a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR).
Sometimes during the customer discovery process, teams discover a different path to take with their innovation. Can you speak to the importance of customer discovery and pivoting?
HB: As I have seen an interesting pivot or two in the past, I would like to discuss the importance of customer discovery. Customer discovery is the foundation upon which the marketing plan will be built. There are hypotheses of what the product offers and who will be the end user, but these hypotheses need to be validated by interviewing potential customers. The goal is to validate how well the product meets the customer needs and to determine how many customers there could potentially be. This process helps the team realize what they are selling, who they are selling it to, and why customers would want to buy it. The way I support teams is by providing them with industry contacts that I have along with my experience in the target market area. I help teams identify appropriate individuals to interview.
What advice do you have for new entrepreneurs?
HB: The advice I have for new entrepreneurs is to make sure you surround yourself with a good leadership team that can advise you accordingly on how to move forward. If you are the scientist, be sure to stay in the scientist role and to appoint your company with a well-established and experienced CEO who can help lead the company from a business standpoint as you advance the science.
What important lesson have YOU learned from being an I-Corps mentor?
HB: An important lesson that I have learned is that customer discovery is a lengthy process, time-consuming, and extremely challenging. Even though the I-Corps program makes it mandatory to complete 100 interviews, the team should be prepared to do 3 to 4 times that number to successfully launch their company.