Q&A with Tech to Market guest Jenny Servo

Dr. Jenny Servo, an advanced tech commercialization guru, recently chatted with BIZ. Publisher and Editor Sean Green about tech commercialization and how O&G manufacturing and engineering firms can benefit from securing R&D funds ahead of her speaking engagement at Tech to Market.

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Dr. Jenny Servo is President and founder of Dawnbreaker. An “accidental entrepreneur,” she has nearly 30 years of experience in managing government contracts and design of programs for highly creative individuals. Through Dawnbreaker, she has helped companies to get more than $3B in Phase III funding over the past three decades.

“We work in Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program space, that is a government-funded program of small R&D firms. Government gives out almost $3B to year throughout the country that meets their R&D needs. That’s taxpayer money, so the expectation is that after those companies do their R&D, they will bring those products to market to benefit you, me, etc.” she said. “We position ourselves as the commercialization firm, so we come in after the companies have received their R&D money and have to bring that product to market. We give them information, we help them with strategies, we help them with marketing communications to make that transition from R&D to success with products in the market.”

Below is a Q&A between Sean and Jenny (click here to see video of their conversation):

1. A quick Google search reveals that change and innovation are synonymous with your name. How does that make you feel?

I am proud. All of the people who work with Dawnbreaker love new things, they love to help people. They take a lot of pride and joy in seeing the companies they’ve helped be successful. So, we join a company partway along their path, we give them information and they continue on. Obviously, when they’re successful, it makes us very satisfied.

2. You’ve worked to help a swath of creatives in a variety of industries, how do you keep it all straight, how do you get inside their business and industry to help them? 

You do it a step at a time. We’ve been in business for 30 years. When we started, our focus was the Department of Energy. So, we worked for a number of years on DoE technology. After that, we then started working with the National Science Foundation, and as you work those companies you learn about their needs. Then, we worked with the Navy, and they do all sorts of different things. That’s how you do it, you don’t walk in knowing how to deal with all these different technologies at one time. 

3. For much of your 30 years of experience, you’ve spent that time combing over these industries and learning what you can. Can you tell us what are some things that all companies need to know, across these industries?

For a company to be successful, there’s a couple things they should know. It’s very en vogue right now, but customer discovery is one of them. Talk to your customers. They are telling you what they need. The other thing is that entrepreneurs from a tech background have to make time for commercialization, and that’s hard because they usually don’t have enough staff. So, they have to somehow find time to do that. You always have to be looking for money. At the beginning, you’re looking for government money, but after you finish the R&D, you have to look for other types of money, and you have to reinvest in yourself. 

4. You’re an author, trainer, and consultant when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship. What’s some advice you can offer to any startups watching right now?

I’ll approach the question from a startup going after SBIR funding because that’s where we come in. First, you can apply as one person, you don’t have to have a company formed at the time of application. Writing a proposal will take a lot more time than you think, so you need to set aside time over a 12-week period. That doesn’t mean it’s going to take 12 weeks of full time effort, but over that period they need to be working on that proposal. You need to think about what you want and what the government will want, you need that synergy because this program’s not there to give you money to do whatever you want. 

Realize it’s going to take time, you learn. Not a large percentage win SBIR awards, usually between 15-20% win, and people get very discouraged. But your’e learning a new art, you’re learning how to write proposals to secure money that you don’t have to pay back or give up equity. It’s a wonderful form of financing for a R&D firm.

5. You’ll be in Shreveport. What can people expect to learn from your presentation?

Obviously, oil and gas is a big industry in Louisiana. A lot of the companies in the area are manufacturing companies or service providers. So, what advantage would a manufacturing company have if they approached the SBIR program? And, there’s a number of them. I will talk about the advantages they will have or engineering service firm has when they come to the SBIR program. I will also talk about some of the things that will be a weakness and where they can seek support, because there are a lot of advantages coming to this program as an existing manufacturing or consulting services firm in the oil and gas industry, already.