BYU researchers have developed technology that, among other things, could make picture telephones affordable, but Utah's economy may not benefit from the discovery unless the state acts quickly, according to a consultant.
Larry Hansen, a consultant studying the state's Centers for Excellence program, said Utah's universities are brimming with new technologies and ideas. However, many of the ideas will become obsolete unless the state helps schools spawn new businesses that have enough money to succeed.The Centers for Excellence program was designed to help create new businesses from technologies developed at local universities.
"The more I get into these technologies, the more impressed I am with the opportunities," Hansen said Tuesday. "We're trying to instill a sense of urgency at the university level. In no place else that I know of are the types of opportunities available that we have here."
The new technology at Brigham Young University could be used for a variety of communication needs. But the state will not benefit if the school decides merely to license the technology and allow out-of-state companies to use it.
If the state can help start a local, private business to act as a supplier to telephone companies, the state's economy will benefit, Hansen said.
He is in the process of selecting five or six different technologies developed by local universities, hoping to turn the knowledge into businesses and jobs. The technologies all have advanced to the stage where they can be used immediately in business, he said.
"It is clear that several of the programs have significant potential for spawning businesses which can be competitive in world markets," Hansen said.
Hansen said the schools need well-seasoned business managers to organize the ventures and to develop a marketing plan for obtaining needed money. Too many Utahns think they can start high-tech businesses "on a shoestring" and develop them slowly.
"You have to take advantage of the technology you have right away," he said. "If you have to wait five years, forget it."
Utah companies often can't obtain start-up money, also known as venture capital, because they don't understand the process, Hansen said.
"They need someone who understands the business thoroughly," he said. "They're probably not going to find that guy in Utah, but I have a lot of confidence that we can find that guy.
"You need a world-class manager. Without that, you'll never be able to attract the capital anyway."
Hansen admits it is unusual for states to provide so much help to fledgling businesses. "However, with the existing conditions, the technologies which have been developed will not be exploited to the extent possible without this degree of assistance," he said.