The center has been able to build at least two working prototypes of devices that can generate fuel from sunlight, but not at scale or acceptable cost, so the work will go on, probably for many years before a common solution is reached. It will be aided however, by an organization and concerted purpose that should speed its success.
The Centre for Bioinspiration at the San Diego Zoo is a recently established for-profit incubator model that will attempt to leverage the intellectual capital of the zoo to aid bio-inspired technology transfer for private clients. It is an entity within San Diego Zoo Global, the umbrella organization that runs the zoo, Safari Park and the Institute for Conservation Research. The plan is to provide a combination of informal corporate education, consulting and ideation to paying customers, as well as to generate and develop in-house ideas for possible market exploitation. The typical innovation will be brought to a "proof of concept" stage and further commercialization will be left to the client.
The core service of the center will be to provide both the bio-inspired innovation ideas and the first steps toward a structured path to a patent. A typical client will pay for educational workshops and ideation and expert development fees and that payment will go toward license and royalty fees for any idea that the center develops and the client wants.
Expertise for the R&D will come from the more than 100 biology experts at the zoo, and from an on-call cadre of scientists from around the world. The center is allied with the BRIDGE Consortium of San Diego and has ties to five private and public universities in the city. The center is currently in an early phase of development and fundraising for a target of $20 million. Current clients include Sprint, which is working with the center on the first phase of a packaging concept.
Bridging the Valley of Death
These three models of bridging the Valley of Death, that yawning chasm between a great idea and a marketable product or service, are all very different. The first is a private academic institution cluster that supports the existing research of advanced faculty and accelerates their discoveries into the mainstream consciousness and market. In their case, they have some solutions to sell.
The second is a federally financed consortium of remote private and public academic faculty led by a governmental department and focused on a national priority. In their case, they have some problems to solve, and only the government can do it to scale.
The third is a private consulting operation that employs experts from both private and public institutions to exploit market opportunities for corporate clients. In their case, they have some services to sell.
All strive to combine basic research with applied technology. All are looking at the phenomena of nature to advance innovation and create wealth, and all will be part of the growing trend toward a more bio-inspired technological world.