Special guest bloggers: This is a guest post from UNC Kenan Flagler Business School students Zoe Fisher, John Hu, Jacob Olliffe, and Micah Stubbs.
Technology Commercialization Carolina (TCC), a Kenan Institute program funded by the US Economic Development Administration (EDA) and the Kenan Fund, extended its resources in Fall 2015 by referring a project to our colleague Professor Nick Didow of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. We appreciate that he and his team were willing to engage. The following is the team’s experience working with a TCC client, after the client worked with our Patent, Market, and Funding Opportunities Research Service. TCC staff Cindy Reifsnider and Pam Snedden worked with Prof. Didow and the student team to transition the project. Learn more about TCC at tcc.unc.edu.
In the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School’s introductory marketing class for undergraduates, there’s a mandatory group project in which students devise a marketing strategy plan for a business of their choice. Our group’s instinct was to go with a restaurant that was new to town, serves comfort food, and whose primary target market is the UNC student body—the perfect project for a group of undergrads, right? Our professor, Dr. Nick Didow, had another idea. He suggested that we work with Papirys, a cybersecurity startup that was still in its testing phase at the time. As a group, we were at first overwhelmed and, frankly, confused by this suggestion. Just one of our group members had any experience or extensive knowledge pertaining to this type of technology. However, we decided to take up the challenge, and oddly enough, this unfamiliarity did not hinder our ability to provide Papirys with the marketing planning they needed to get started.
As we tried to wrap our minds around the project, we started by formulating the best one-sentence summary we could to describe the product:
“Papirys offers an encryption solution based on blockchain technologies for secure file transfer platform with B2B, B2C, and private file management solutions.”
Papirys’ product is useful to just about any business, as it provides a way to securely transfer data that is uniquely built upon the principle of trust. Papirys’ goal is to create the world’s first public encryption utility company that evolves blockchain into a new conduit of security and trade. The problem is that the average person can’t recognize this necessity by reading the aforementioned description.
Like many small businesses, Papirys needed to start with a very specific and fairly small target market. The long-term challenge was how to make Papirys’ products understandable to people without tech backgrounds—people like most of our team members. Businesses have to realize that they need a way to securely transfer large, complex data files, and they have to recognize why Papirys’ products are superior to other technologies using cloud-based storage and managed file transfer. Finally, the Papirys platform uses a brand new technology – the Blockchain – and so, creating market awareness for a brand new company using a brand new technology was paramount to our team’s goals. Thus, we examined a handful of seemingly complicated products online and found technical reports and market research that made the somewhat daunting subject matter easy to understand. Specific case studies on competitors and other start-up companies served as the basis for our recommendations. As a result, we provided suggestions on how Papirys’ team could build a simple, intuitive user interface and make their products readily available to those who need them.
Our marketing plan’s greatest value is in our recommendations for how the company can effectively communicate its ability to meet customer needs. These communication tactics include strategies to remove the technical jargon and make the technology understandable to a person with average technology skills. We understood that the marketing strategy plan we provided the company was not valuable because of our extensive knowledge of the product’s intricacies nor our expertise in marketing. In fact, as a group of undergraduate business students in an introductory-level marketing course, these qualities were still developing. However, given the previously completed project by the TCC team, which focused on the technology, the partnership dovetailed perfectly to benefit the team at Papirys.
This project is a great example of the meaningful contributions and learning opportunities that can be gained through partnerships between our academic programs and outside businesses. Companies acquire an outside perspective on their practices, students receive invaluable exposure to real-world challenges, and all involved accumulate new, valuable knowledge in the process.