The Great Tech Transfer—A Success Story in Innovation

By John Shearer, Co-Founder, and CEO, DarkLight

Solving business challenges often requires innovation, but fostering creativity and growing new technologies is a challenge in itself. Creating new services and products is a problem that causes most organizations to struggle.

According to a McKinsey & Company study, one key to successfully creating new solutions is effective senior leadership and a corporate culture focused on innovation.

Success depends not only on executive leadership that encourages innovation but also on that which manages, tracks and measures its progress as a core element in a company’s growth strategy.

“94 percent of senior executives say that people and corporate culture are the most important drivers of innovation.”- McKinsey & Company

Some organizations are getting it right. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) (operated by Battelle) fostered the creation of the technology behind DarkLight, artificial intelligence-driven cybersecurity analytics, and automation platform.

DarkLight was commercialized by Champion Technology Company, who now counts PNNL among its users.

Like many organizations, PNNL faced the challenge of analyzing growing volumes of security data without enough human talent to make sense of it. Champion and PNNL collaborated to develop DarkLight, which is now in use at the Lab.

This helped reduce the cost and demands on resources inherent in developing new products and services and fostered the PNNL culture that rewards innovation.

“Champion’s collaboration with PNNL has created a technology which is unique in its approach to analytics in the cybersecurity space,” says PNNL’s Director of Innovation, Rosemarie Truman. “DarkLight captures the analytic tradecraft and reasoning of the cyber analyst to create automated and predictive courses of action.

This automated response combats the growing shortage of analysts in the industry while putting an emphasis on the security specialist’s knowledge and encapsulating what senior analysts already know.”

Achieving Success with a Tech Transfer
Successfully transferring technology to an outside vendor to commercialize new tools and services requires executive buy-in at every level.

Even with this support, it is often an arduous process and risky proposition not always resulting in a win-win.

Like with any start-up, it is critical to ensure the new company is funded and staffed appropriately to execute on its goals and deliver on the parent organization’s mission and needs.

It also requires a dedicated champion from the parent organization who has a vision for the long game and benefits that can be achieved with a strong technology transfer partner.

The risks can be off-set by rewards that include revenue from commercializing products, as well as cost-effective development of a wide range of new technologies.

Contributing to the success of this transfer was the licensing arrangement that PNNL and DarkLight agreed upon.

Driven by the uniquely close relationship between the two organizations, the licensing arrangement allows PNNL and other Labs access to the current commercial version, at no charge for R&D purposes.

There isn’t a divergent ‘commercial’ vs. R&D codebase, which is often the downfall of many unsuccessful technology transfers.

This relationship provides a structure allowing PNNL researchers the flexibility to innovate with commercial technology born at the Lab without worrying about infringing on intellectual property rights.

If the shared codebase planted the seed for DarkLight, the unwavering support of PNNL provided the nutrients that allowed commercial development of the artificial intelligence platform.

According to Prosci Inc.’s Change Management Learning Center, there is a direct correlation between active and visible executive support and the success of a major change initiative. In fact, this is the number one factor in success.

The critical elements in executive support of a program are:
• Taking the lead in establishing a budget and assigning the right resources
• Staying active with the team throughout the project
• Engaging and creating support with other senior managers
• Being a visible champion for the project
• Helping to manage key resistance points

PNNL provided the necessary support and continues to use DarkLight and host visits for other government labs and organizations to see for themselves.

The DarkLight Result
Fostering commercial development of new technologies helped produce a product unique in its approach to analytics.

The DarkLight artificial intelligence has applications in all sectors in extrapolating actionable intelligence from data produced by existing cybersecurity solutions.

Instead of focusing on a data-centric methodology, DarkLight captures and automates the human logic to analyze enterprise-wide data at scale.

This gives PNNL a commercial technology to address the shortage of trained IT security analysts and improve its cybersecurity status in an environment producing huge volumes of data.

Fostering innovation need not be a struggle. With strong executive leadership, new ideas for solving new challenges can be developed and commercialized to benefit both the parent organization and the broader IT community.

About the Author
John Shearer, Co-Founder, and CEO, DarkLight
John is an award-winning international technologist, inventor, and former CEO of several tech ventures who currently serves as Practitioner Faculty and Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management.
John has been instrumental in substantially growing the MBA Entrepreneurship Program at Pepperdine University and has co-founded the Early X Foundation, a unique Intellectual Property commercialization process. In this teaching role, he develops MBA student-founded, innovation-based businesses.
Globally, he locates and evaluates cutting-edge technologies with significant commercial value from other universities, national and international research laboratories and within the private sector for commercialization.