The Incognito Series, Part 1: How to talk like a business person (if you are a scientist)
No, this is not about teaching you some jargon. This is about how you can use non-obvious data to bridge the gap between different kinds of professionals who often have a hard time communicating with each other.
So you are a scientist, and you work in a technology company. How do you explain to “them that have the gold” (i.e. finance or business people) what you do, and why they should care? Or, probably even more important, how do you help them understand why what you plan to do will be important for your company?
You could try to impress them by collecting and showing them large collections of R&D publications. After all, lots of R&D probably means that the topic is important, right? Well, perhaps yes, perhaps no. But what is more important, it is quite likely that much of the R&D will sound like Martian to your finance and business colleagues. Because of their different background, you and them probably won’t bond over a thick folder of R&D papers.
How can you get a meaningful conversation going, and bridge the R&D-business gap?
You could try framing what you do so that they can relate. For example, you could talk about applications of your R&D. Or you could discuss other companies that use similar technology, particularly if those companies are fast-moving and innovative. Or, more generally, you could show them future scenarios in which your R&D plays a significant role.
How can you discover these applications, companies, and future scenarios?
Let’s make this concrete. Let’s say you are a research scientist in an electronics company. And you would like to show your finance and business colleagues why they should care about your work in optoelectronics.
Optoelectronics is about electronic devices that source, detect, and control light, says Wikipedia.
Now, you call up Mergeflow, and you enter a very simple search ( optoelectronic*, with a star, finds ‘optoelectronic’, ‘optoelectronics’, and other word endings):
Mergeflow has 36,000 optoelectronics science publications from the last five years. So, yes, you are not the only one in this field. But we said that we don’t want to do the whole “impress-them-with-your-big-folder-of-highfalutin-research” thing because this would backfire and kill our conversation.
So instead, let’s look at companies first.
Venture capital fundings are a good place for discovering companies. Very often, these are companies at the forefront of new technologies and business models. In order to discover these companies, Mergeflow collects and analyzes news and other data streams. Here, for example, are VC-backed optoelectronics companies:
Two VC-backed companies only over the last five years, but it is a starting point. Quanergy makes LiDAR sensors for transportation, industrial manufacturing, terrestrial and aerial mapping, and for security solutions. Nanotronics builds automated microscopes, e.g. for industrial inspection imaging.
Also, you can see that the investors include Founders Fund and Samsung Ventures. In a conversation with your business colleagues, you could argue that this probably means that they should take this seriously.
You could now keep looking for companies. Or you could do this later, after a first conversation with your colleagues, which will probably bring up additional questions and ideas. For now, let’s move on to applications.
It is not easy to search for applications of a technology, and usually there is no straightforward way to do this. But Mergeflow has a tool for this. This tool extracts market estimates from news, websites, and other sources. So you can search for “optoelectronics”, for example, and Mergeflow will show you where market analysts see this technology.
For example, you get companies that analysts associate with optoelectronics:
Most certainly, some of these companies will ring a bell with your business colleagues, and some companies may surprise them.
OK, back to discovering applications.
For applications, we will use market segments discovered by Mergeflow. In addition to markets that directly match your search (‘optoelectronics markets’ here), Mergeflow’s market estimate discovery tool also identifies what we call “context markets”. These are markets that don’t directly match your topic, but are related to it. And this is where you can find applications. For example, below are some of the fastest-growing context markets for optoelectronics (fastest-growing according to the estimates):
While ‘quantum dots’ are probably something you can use to make optoelectronics, there are applications such as visible light communication, micro-LEDs, or 3D printing. You could discuss these applications with your business colleagues. Which ones you select should depend on what exactly your company is doing, of course.
Could you have brainstormed these applications? Maybe. But then you would be just another person with an opinion. By contrast, if you can point to data, you can lift your conversation with your business colleagues to another level.
Next, let’s see how Mergeflow helps you discover future scenarios.
By “future scenarios”, I mean emerging or frontier technology applications that are not quite there yet but that you would not want to miss once they really start happening. While this is certainly more “freestyle” than the companies and applications parts above, it is still relevant because…
- …being late to a future scenario can result in a Sputnik moment for your company, when you realize that something just happened that could turn the tide against you.
- …they can stimulate a thought process, resulting in really new and unconventional solutions (not necessarily the particular future scenario you found, but something derived from it).
In Mergeflow, tech blogs are a good place to look for such future scenarios. While there is no cookie cutter approach for this, scanning the tag cloud often works:
Here, for example, additive manufacturing could be interesting (-> red arrow). When you click on this tag, Mergeflow brings up this article:
This article describes how you could use those curvy electronics (which are optoelectronics) to embed sensors into contact lenses, for example:
Now, your company may not make contact lenses. But if you abstract away a bit from this particular scenario, the technological capability described here is, “we could manufacture electronics that have non-traditional, i.e. non-flat, shapes”. And this idea could stimulate an interesting thought process in your company.
This article is “Part 1” of my “Incognito Series”. In Part 2, I will reverse direction, and show you how Mergeflow helps you talk like a scientist if you are a business person. Stay tuned!