Leveraging New Technologies to Optimize Business Opportunities
Technology constantly evolves, creating threats to existing products but also generating opportunities for savvy companies who can develop technology that is targeted at capturing new applications and markets. To be positioned to thrive rather than suffer in the face of inexorable technology development, companies must have the courage and insight to invest in new technology development and commercialization. More importantly, they need to aim their technology development and investment at the most promising, significant, and realistic applications.
For example, in the MEMS and sensor industries that I have followed for some time, it is evident that companies who developed and commercialized MEMS-based devices for specific evolving and expanding application areas early on (who started their business around the early to mid-80s or before) became well positioned to initially capitalize on the expanded opportunities for silicon-based pressure sensors and accelerometers in such applications areas as vehicles (e.g., manifold absolute pressure sensors, airbag accelerometers, and later on, occupant safety sensors, tire pressure sensors, vehicle stability control sensors, etc.), medical (such as blood pressure sensors), industrial (pressure transmitters), aerospace (for example, inertial sensing) and so on. Many of the early MEMS sensor start-ups, such as NovaSensor, SenSym, IC Sensors, etc. were positioned to attract funding and acquisition opportunities.
MEMS inertial sensors (accelerometers and gyros) are also finding opportunities, spearheaded, for example, by the need for lower power, smaller, more cost-effective, readily integrated, and versatile accelerometers and gyros in consumer electronics devices. Younger, innovative and entrepreneurial developers and providers of MEMS-based inertial sensors for such applications as consumer electronics include, for example, Kionix (which was founded in 1993 and has been acquired by Rohm) and InvenSense (founded in 2003, which develops and provides MEMS gyros, including the achievement of an integrated dual-axis gyro).
Indeed, the development of MEMS-based gyros (angular rate sensors) has opened up key high-volume opportunities in such areas as mobile handsets and gaming (more intuitive, gesture-based motion control), digital cameras (image stabilization), and automotive (vehicle stability control/rollover detection/mitigation). MEMS technology (which essentially creates devices that are built into semiconductor chips using tools and techniques similar to those used in the integrated circuit industry) enables sensors and other devices (such as, for example, oscillators for timing in a plethora of applications, including consumer electronics) to have key opportunities to disrupt incumbent technologies, due to such benefits afforded by MEMS technology as greater miniaturization and form factor flexibility, reduced power consumption, ease of integration with other electronic components, and potential to be economically produced in very high volumes.
MEMS technology dovetails well with the ongoing trend toward ever smaller, lower power, and more integrated devices and electronic systems in a broad range of applications. In addition to the earlier MEMS devices that have found widespread use in the marketplace (such as MEMS pressure sensors, accelerometers, and, subsequently MEMS gyro sensors), a wide range of MEMS-based devices have, or are finding, opportunities in the marketplace going forward, including, for example, MEMS-based infrared thermopiles (which are widely used in such applications as ear thermometry, automotive climate control, air conditioners, microwave ovens, etc.); MEMS gas sensors for such applications as air quality monitoring or homeland security); MEMS microphones; MEMS magnetometers (for such applications as, for example, homeland security/defense, navigation or compassing, geological mineral detection, automotive, medical diagnostocs); microfluidics; MEMS biosensors or biological sensors (for such applications as DNA detection, drug delivery systems; etc.).
The key to the success of advanced, potentially disruptive technology (such as MEMS-based devices) rests on having access to very valid, unbiased information about the realistic opportunities and threats for new technologies and data about the most promising and accessible key markets/applications for such technologies.