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Market research and validation move ideas to businesses

Technology and marketing are coming together for clients of Southern Growth Studio, an Oxford-based group that launched last November. Managing partner Michael Graber, who is also a contributing columnist to the Mississippi Business Journal, says the eight employees all grew up on digital and websites and cut their teeth on interactive.

“We bring a different orientation to marketing,” he said. “We look at products and make sure they can pay off. User service is paramount. We come somewhere between consultants and implementers.”

The firm took that strategy of in-depth market research and positioning to the Office of Technology Commercialization at Mississippi State University (MSU) where daring new ideas become viable products and services and hopefully successful businesses.

Southern Growth recently completed a market validation study on an interactive golf swing training device developed by MSU’s director of golf Tony Luczak. The device offers users real-time feedback on the quality of their swing. The study examined aspects of the national and global golf market and determined how this device could fit in the current market and transcend it.

“I think they provided a lot of good background information on the golf industry and the overall business research that’s needed to take it to the next level,” said Chuck Rivenburgh, director of MSU’s Office of Technology Commercialization. “It’s still in the early stages of development, and the inventor is using the information to refine the development.”

Graber said his team used the “big dig” process that included trying the product, looking at markets, talking to experts and conducting lots of research.

“We wanted to see if the inventor can build a business around the device,” he said. “We brought back a lot of information, including that the golf market is slowing in this country and there are too many golf gadgets out there. We found that a new product has to become the iPod of the golf set; it has to be cool.”

At MSU, Rivenburgh has an overall responsibility to move ideas from concepts to businesses. “With the golf swing device, Southern Growth Studio is helping frame out a way to make that move,” he said. “We believe the marketing information provided by their report was very useful and should help the company focus its development efforts on market needs.”

The Technology Commercialization Office has had 25 startup companies, 15 of which are still active. Rivenburgh says SemiSouth is the best known. It was founded in MSU’s engineering school and is now a thriving semi conductor company specializing in silicon carbide power devices and materials, and has 58 employees. The office is now working with Spatial Information Solutions on a mapping technology that provides better mapping skills. Another start-up company is Termisys Technologies, which makes devices that attract termites and improves bait stations.

“Research and branding help scientists and encourages them to work with research,” he said. “It goes well with the scientific background to move an idea from intellectual property to the business side. That’s our mission.”

In the private sector Graber’s team is working with Vector Transport of Tupelo to move the freight broker from telephone application to a web-based format. “We’ve thought through each step of the process, role played and added best practices to make it easy for users,” he said. “It will be launched in two or three weeks.”

Vector president Joe Estess says his company handles truck loads of freight in and out of the United States and Canada, operating like real estate agents for shippers. It maintains a data base of 12,000 trucking companies that is constantly changing as truckers enter and leave the industry every day.

“We have to keep it current, and we offer them loads of freight all over the country. We find matches for trucks, routes and freight,” he said. “It’s always been strictly by telephone. Now truckers can go online and find what’s available and search loads at their convenience any time of day or night.”

The upgraded service will also make automatic faxes and e-mails available to trucking companies

“We’ve tested it and have a few carriers already using it,” Estess said. “It will really help us.”

Graber says technology and marketing are changing as social network marketing and peer-to-peer sales are driving the marketplace more than anything now as MySpace and Facebook catch on with all age groups.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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