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Cyclotron Road & Techonomics: Cost modeling for science entrepreneurs

Cyclotron Road is a technology incubator embedded at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. It’s a home for innovators whose ideas are too challenging or high-risk to pursue as traditional venture-backed startups, specifically in ‘hard-tech’ fields like advanced materials, chemistry, and physics.

Bringing hard-tech technologies to market is expensive and it takes a long time. As a result, our current innovation ecosystem is not well-suited to commercializing them. Cyclotron Road’s two-year fellowship program helps these technologies succeed by providing funding, mentorship, networking, and access to the national lab’s resources. Their 2018 cohort includes startups in fields ranging from energy storage, to quantum computing, to industrial enzymes.

Last September, I happened to visit Cyclotron Road just as they were starting a new project called Techonomics. The Cyclotron Road team had noticed that many hard-tech entrepreneurs didn't have a good understanding of how to model the economics of their innovations, leading them to pursue inefficient research plans or dead ends. Techonomics was planned to be a set of open-source educational resources aiming to persuade innovators to do better early-stage cost modeling and to give them the tools to get started. If you’ve read any of my other writing, you’ll know this is right up my alley.

So, that was then. And, this is now:

We just rolled out this beta version last month. The website hosts two series of videos. The first is a set of primer videos produced by Cyclotron Road's Beth Zotter, who also provided the vision and direction for this project. This series introduces the key concepts, like CapEx, OpEx, BOM, total cost of production, and ways to add value. In the second set of videos, I guide the viewer through building three types of spreadsheet models: a basic bill-of-materials model, a model for a simple manufacturing process, and a model for a simple chemical process. You can also download the models to follow along or to use as templates.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Pending feedback from the community and a couple of pilots in university entrepreneurship programs, we have some exciting ideas for where Techonomics could go.


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