The Economic Impact of Tech Commercialization

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Invention and innovation are critical for technology advancement, but tech commercialization is essential to bear the economic fruit of progress.

Without commercialization, the brilliant ideas spawned by both the private and public sectors would never produce practical use benefits.

Tom Cellucci, Chairman and CEO of Cellucci Associates, Inc., shares his insights into tech commercialization and why he believes the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world in its application.

Join us as we discuss:

- Tom’s experience as the U.S. government’s first Commercialization Officer (2:20)

- Progress of nanotechnology and fusion energy research (13:00)

- The World Bank’s role in global tech commercialization (26:49)

Craving more? You can find this interview and many more by subscribing to C-Suite Blueprint on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or here.

On today's episode we discuss commercialization, how we can leverage partnerships to turn inventions innovation into full scale commercialized solutions and how. Only then do you not true impact. I'm joined by Dr Thomas Salucci, an early pioneer nanotechnology, an expert in laser physics, photonics commercialization, amongst many, many other things. Tom Was the first ever commercialization officer for the Federal Government and, through tremendous success, he's advised for presidents. He's authored over twenty four books continues to push innovation, partnership and commercialization through countless initiatives. A true inspiration. Please welcome Tom. You're listening to C suite blueprint, the show for C suite leaders. Here we discussed no bys approaches to organizational readiness and digital transformation. Let's start the show, Tom, thanks so much for being here. My pleasure, George. Tom We're gonna talk about a lot of stuff. You've been pushing innovation and for many, many years, and one of those is nanotechnology. About twenty years ago I saw an article about the space elevator and I've wanted nothing more to become reality in my lifetime. But it all hinged on advancements in carbon nanotubes. And I guess my first question for you. Am I going to see a space elevator during my lifetime? Tom George, you're the nicest guy I've met in a long time. Unfortunately, I have a little bad news. It's one of those things. In theory it sounds great, but if I remember correctly, there were two studies done. One a theoretical study in Italy, I think it was the University of Torino, by someone in I believe it was the department of Mechanical Engineering, that proved that it was impossible for the space elevator to be uh any lengthened space. And then there was a follow at m I t. If I remember correctly, I may have even met him. He worked at a Nano based company and his name, I think, is Dave Gall us, and he did...

...mathematical calculations to show the elevator would collapse on itself at about two hundred to three hundred miles. So I mean it's pretty cool, but it's not going to affinity and beyond as the carteam characters. Have to take that off my list of things I need to see. Sorry, man Um, but let's go back a little bit. You were the first commercialization officer for the government within DHS. I'd love to at least just hear what what was that experience like? Were you were you welcomed with open ours? WAS IT super easy? Not Difficult at all? What was the challenge? I don't regret any of it and it was up and down experience, but all good in retrospect. Basically, I was there to be a change agent and you know the risk profile of people in the private sector versus the public sector are very, very different, George. So here comes this businessman that you know started or sold for high tech companies for people had done well, and I was here to really accelerate how we could use the private sector to help the public sector get things done more economically efficiently, et CETERA. And of course there were a lot of people in the government that looked and said this is the way they're doing it for fifty years, this is the way I think we should continue. But we had particularly younger people that wrapped their arms around it. And I'll let you know a little secret. I was appointed first by President George W Bush, and he said where do you think you would start? I said Homeland Security and he said why? I said Homeland Security is a young agency, so they will be more apt to try new things. So that's why I went to Homeland Security and what most people didn't know in the public most people know me from Homeland Security, but I also ran the special...

...programs for the White House and the three letter agencies. They embraced the idea of public private partnerships because they had extremely critical missions to accomplish and they wanted to get technology done and commercialized as quickly as possible. I was then reappointed by President Obama and he was impressed with the things that we could get done. We were saving lots of money per month of taxpayer dollar and, let's face it, the president like a lot of other people that walk the holes of their politicians and it made them look good. So I was really impressed, though, that they both wrapped their arms around it and, quite frankly, I assisted president trump. I wrote a book for him to use, the the innovative public private partnerships for infrastructure and key resource development. Unfortunately, he had of it happened under his watch, but I did write the book. It's actually on Amazon and I'm helping President Biden now with a number of things. So this concept of Innovative Public Private Partnership, where the taxpayer wins, the government wins and the private sector win, is a no lose. It's a win, win win. And basically the way it works is the government needs to write detailed operational requirements. In other words, that's a fancy way of saying, George, articulate the problem you're trying to solve and you don't guarantee in the government, but you estimate what the potential valuable market, the number of potential users. But the government has this wonderful opportunity because DHS, for example. Let's talk about a biochemical sensor. Well, not only do the people at DHS, at customs, border protection, T S A and others need that, but look at the first responder community police could use...

...that, firefighters could use it. You know, when people in the government didn't recognize because they don't think in terms of markets, but there are a huge market and if you looked at all the ancillary markets, for example, people were shocked. Most people think there's about two to three million first responders. Actually, according to I think it was called presidential directive number eight, it was more like twenty five point three million people in the first responder community. And you know, when I taught at Harvard and Wharton we had a term for that one big damn market. So I was able to get the private sector to use their resources, their time. I would put out detailed operational requirements and estimate of the potential available market and they would come back with a solution or Appro Graham that they would do all at their cost and I would say, if you're giving me a product or a service, you have to have third party independent testing. They would pay for it and then it was a certification program the following products or services can meet the needs. It created competition, the pricing went lower. The first experiment was done with Secretary Michael Churdoff, and when I first got to meet him and we talked, he said I like to do experiments. I said me too. What's really bothering you? And in those days busses were being blown up, subway cars, trains. He said I would like something Tommy that we could learn get some analytics if something like this happens and is low enough for the average business owner to buy. He said we're spending fifteen, twenty thousand dollars for one, basically camera. So I wrote the detailed operation require. It was no...

...more than a page and a half, put the potential available market and, no kidding, in less than three months we had four people that had working prototypes and he put a price on it to be less than six hundred. And I saw him a couple of weeks later and he said how's it going? I said okay. And because he kind of had a bet that this wasn't gonna Happen and he's going to get the new private sector guide, who's going to teach me about government? I said, well, I found he said, well, don't be too hard on yourself. I said, we didn't make your six hundred dollar price. We're in about two hundred forty three dollars. He said you're kidding. And that's what started things off and that technology, that kind of technology, is what ended up catching those people. I know you're in the Boston area, from the Boston area. That's the technology that was so inexpensive it could be used on buildings that caught those two guys in the Boston Marathon bombing. I'm very proud of that. And there were men any other examples. So great hearing those success stories. And what's what's throughout? Unlike you, who are young and full of hope, I'm old and full of other things. But, uh, that program that started DHS. It has a different name, but it's all throughout government now, so change can happen. And I get nice notes on Linkedin or email saying, Dr Sluci, you don't know me, but we use your program. We call it this. We're saving tons of money but just as importantly, we're getting to our missions in, you know, one tenth the time it used to take. And I know you're joking about being old and full of other things, but you are so driven and still pushing innovation. Just today you were telling me about this new innovative deal. I mean what I want to hear about that. But what keeps you driven? What keeps you pushing innovation? What fuels that? It's funny. The whole concept of technology development is really broken up into three major parts, I would say, invention,...

...innovation and finally, commercialization. Commercialization is the most gratifying because it helps the socio economic parameters of a country, of a region, of a nation, and that's why I get so excited I happen to be on the International Science and Commercialization Board of the World Bank and I travel all over the world and I work with countries that have younger younger scientists and engineers that we do, and I've been very successful in pushing the concept of commercialization, not just R and D, because commercialization gives you the impact, the economic impact, that the presidents of these countries want. Uh, it's great to invent, to to have to have one world or one real application, but it's the mass commercialization of something that brings prosperity to a region, an area of country, and I just truly enjoy doing that and I also I do teach. I enjoy it and I like working with a lot of young people and giving them practical knowledge. And to say that, you know, being a scientist, an engineer, I'm a laser spectrospis laser businessness. You don't have to be born, you can get involved in business. In fact, high tech businesses usually provide the biggest rewards. So that's why I'm kind of in it and, as I tell everyone, they said you could have retired a long time ago. Yes, it's true, but I'll retire when I'm dead. George, you know, when I think about my future, I always think, man, I've made so many mistakes in my life. If I can't, like each other people, to learn from those in my retirement, then then...

I I it'll be a waste all those mistakes have made, you know. But, George, that's great what you just said. You're smart, because show me a person that makes mistakes and I'm showing you a person that tries things. Just try. I tell people all the time, and companies that I'm honored to manage, it's okay to make mistakes. Try Not to make the same mistake fifteen times, but and just learn from your mistakes. Making mistakes tells me you can take risks. That's important in life and business and most other things. Yeah, that's Fanta and I love those, those three Um layers that you talked about invention, innovation, commercialization. It's funny. I don't know if they still do it, but Darpa had a similar three phase structure to a lot of the the work that they would do over there, which means makes a lot of sense. Can we talk a little bit about the latest innovation deal that that you pushed, because I think I heard lasers I think I heard nuclear. I don't know what the details are, but it sounded cool. I want to hear about it. Yeah, well, you know, one thing that I'm heavily involved in, I think that your audience would be interested in, is I'm with a younger company doing nanotechnology, and what's so unique about this company is Nanto has been around, but they are now working on phenomenal capabilities in terms of nanobased solutions. You know this one thing covid taught us. If we really weren't prepared in terms of disinfection and and keeping ourselves, our homes, are infrastructure safe. These folks, in short order, have gotten a portfolio of about twenty four patents. Thirteen, I believe, are already awarded. The rest are pending. That deal with Um being anti viral, Anti Fungal, antibacterial and last with third party, independent and testing in government labs for twenty months or so. Think...

...about if we had that capability when Covid, by the way, it's not going away. It's going to continue. Other strains and other types of Um gobbling book, as I call it, will will hit hit our society around the world. But they've been able to in short order uh get these abilities and you know you have a winner when potential customers are coming to your company. It's a it's a great company and we we have this commonality of Boston in the Boston area called JP Industries International. We were just written up about a month and a half ago in Forbes. Very rare for Forbes magazine to bring out a smaller company like that, but it deserved every bit of it. The latest thing that we talked about just before going on the podcast was I was asked to get involved with a firm. You may have heard that. There's they called the national ignition facility, and I mentioned to you my background is laser spectroscopis laser physicists. In fact, I started my career after Shell Oil Company. Um, the founder of what is now the largest laser company in the world, coherent headquarters in California, said, you know, for a laser physicist, you're not that strange. Um, did you ever think about getting into business? And I believe I was the first Ph d that they had hired for sales and my accounts were a t and t M. I t basically the east coast IBM UH Steve Chew, who was the Secretary of energy. We designed lasers for him and that garnered him the Nobel Prize for his optical molasses experiments, and he's such a gracious guy. I wrote to him saying, Steve, I I don't know if you remember me. Of course I remember you. I remember you were the guy on the floor at bell labs with me on we guns, teaching me how to use...

...these lasers. But the bottom line is the US government, no kidding George, has put over five billion dollars in trying to produce laser induced fusion. And this idea of fusion is what creates energy and the stars, the Sun. It's green, it's clean, uh, it's very abundant. And so the NIFF, the national ignition facility, just a couple of days ago talked about results and I believe the results were probably nine months to one year old. said that they have, you know, gotten to show capability of doing this. And what they're doing is using a whole series of laser beams to impinge a pellet, if you will, to create this fusion reaction. Uh, and the world's very interested. So I will tell you about a week or so ago, maybe ten days ago, we did close a deal with a firm commitment to five hundred million, with another one point five billion if we need it. Uh. So we're now working with I can't speak a lot about it over in a podcast, but we're speaking with a lot of people in our government, the Department of Energy, the White House and to try to get this moving, because that would be a terrific commercialization project for our nation, because other nations, not only would we be the leaders, they certainly are interested in it and could use it. Yeah, I think I've read recently there was an article that there was a breakthrough on the ignition phase of fusion or something like that. Is that? That's absolutely correct, George. That's it. That actually experiment actually happened, I believe about nine...

...months ago to a year ago, but that that's exactly what we want to commercialize. It's gonna take time, it's gonna take money and it's very analogous. The government really did invent the Internet, but it took the private sector to build it through, commercialize it and monetize it. Same kind of idea here. Yeah, thank you government and thank you, Vince Serf, previous podcast guest, serve as the nicest guy in the world. I remember him in the government and I finally remembered him. He was, I guess, the chief evangelists for Google, if I remember his title. Great Person. Is a great guy and the best dressed I find. Yeah, so, you know, let's go back a little bit too. You know what what makes these partnerships successful and what what makes them on? What are the pitfalls in them? The one thing I really loved that you did with your your partnerships as the commercialization officer is finding the path at least resistance the people that really you knew it wasn't going to be a fight and and my guess is then when you get down the you start to get real success and then the people that were resistant they start to smell that and they're like, Hey, can we get a little bit of that over here? It smells good, but whatever you guys are cooking over there right. So what are all? There's no there. It was no real secret to it, George, and in fact I asked both President George W Bush and President Obama, when I work with them. I said, look, I really hope you can do me a favor, and they say what, what could I do to help? And I said I just want to be able to use your name, not all the time, but when I needed it, because the government is all about pleasing the master of the master of the master. The top master is the president of United States, and if he or someday she wants something done, guess what, it gets done, matter what any government person wants.

So anyone that would give me you know, my experience was it's like losing weight. It wasn't working with the top people in the government, the cognate people, I didn't care about if they were Democrats Republicans. They understood the merits to this. The younger people that usually were the new folks in the government, they wrapped their arms around it. It's like losing weight. The hardest part is the Middle George, and it was those folks that had been there for fifteen, twenty, twenty five years. They resisted it until, to your point, George, they were seeing that the president of the United States was interested in it, Congress was interested in it. It saved money, it brought things to market faster and it created the good competition that lowered the price that the American people had to pay for equipment, services, et CETERA. It's just simple and and I was getting all these awards and I would say to President Bush and I'd say I said to him once, I said, you know, I'm getting these awards and this is just common sense, and he looked right at me and he said, Tommy, he said, and that's what we need, common sense. They should give you the award. It was very nice, but it was very poignant time. He was very good and so was President Obama and they really supported everything and they would be interested to update them on things. But they didn't worry about commercialization. It was working and they were just always saying to me, think about how you are going to be able to spread this when you're not here, and that's why I used to spend a lot of time with people in different agencies and give speeches. I went through about nine thousand business cards a month in the government from giving conferences and talking to other agencies. But I look back on it with fond memories. And if you have people in your audience and that think it's you know, everyone's just they're pushing a button in...

...the government, you have the ability uh to to to change things. I wasn't there for forty years. I was there for four years and after the first year we saw changes. And to your point, once people see the dynamic, see the difference is in the private sector people are rewarded for financial results. In in the government sector, what you're noted for is what's your budget and how many people? I didn't say one thing about the accomplishment or any accomplishment. That's the difference. And I used to say to the presidents, and they were awesome, I would say, please, let me bring people in here to shake your hand give a certificate, because that on mean more to them than and it and it did. Uh, and so it came into leadership as well, to foss to this idea it's not just about how much money and how many people you have. I was you know, they were probably thinking I was a heretic. I would draw the organization chart when I went into a big group and I put myself in an inverted triangle in the bottom and these gubbies that have been there. A military guy, three four stars are looking at me like this guy's cook. Said one job is to make everyone else successful, and they'd be like because and that that's kind of a military goal. And the people would look and they never believed it until I started bringing in the pizza for lunch and we used to talk and I would sit down with him and say, what can I do to make you successful? What do you need? But then the word got around after, I think the second pizza lunch. He's serious and he's doing it. That's what did it. It's, you know, it's not rocket sign. Yeah, it's it's called being being friendly and helping others. That's what it is. It's funny how common common sense can be. Most Times.

I feel like that's the harstness of reality. Making everyone around you look good. Um, simplifying things. We don't have to make it that complicated. One of my prior episodes we talked about entropy and just human nature to just seems to be to make things complicated over time, you know, and we just have to keep pulling it back to simplify. It's funny. I gave a would ended up probably being a four or five hour course in Boston last week to some people in this Nano Tech Company that I'm proud to be the CEO and a board member, and there they were so scared of all of these words that the physicists are using about nanotech. I said, I'm gonna teach you everything you'll ever need to know about nanotechnology. It'll take three or four hours and we're not going to have books, no tests, and we're gonna talk in plain language, because my father, a rest his soul, said if you can't explain it to an eight year old, you don't understand it. And just the expressions on the face after this four hour session. They said, tom it's all regular stuff. It's the words that throw you off, and I said, yeah, it's just a like to your point. It's a fancy way to keep people at a supposedly a different level. I find when you speak, speak simply and people respect that more. So I taught them probably half of of course, I used to teach and advanced physics and laser physics at Princeton, but I just used the simple language. That's all. I love that and as a father of a five year old daughter who has been asking a lot more questions, I'm I'm very recently strengthening that muscle of trying to figure out how you explain these complex topics. Did you say laser molasses, or what was it? Optical, optical molasses? Oh yeah, optical glasses. Was the experiment, and that, as Steve...

Chew and his colleagues performed at bell laboratories, doesn't exist anymore in north New Jersey. Basically, he took beams of laser light and froze molecules and that's what he won the Nobel Prize for. And what's going what are you doing with the World Bank? You know I'm very interested in the commercialization aspect there. Yeah, the World Bank. I just got back from a long trip a couple of weeks ago from Turkey, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and when the World Bank Lens usually five hundred million or more money and involves science, technology and engineering. I'm one of several people that would go and look at the proposals, make sure they're real, they're scientifically or engineering sound, and then monitor those programs. And of course I'm one of the gray hair old guys that is on there because I'm always pushing the idea of commercialization and I also talk to them about raising money, whether it be private equity, mom and pop type investment, and so we ensure that the funds that are being used in these countries are for the advancement of that country in terms of the commercialization of technology that they're developing because once again, as I said, it's really commercialization that brings economic prosperity to a people or a country or a region. I'm someone who loves frameworks or, you know, criteria. When you're looking at these proposals and you're thinking, can this be commercialized? Did you have a simple framework or simple criteria that you use when you look at those? Well, absolutely, what what the countries allow us to do? Because again, unlike you are young and full of hope, I'm old and full of...

...other things. I actually wrote or CO author books, many of them are on commercialization. So what I do, is one of my roles, is, before they even write proposals, I provide lots of data. I developed Um worksheets for them to read and understand and ask questions, so when it gets time to write a proposal, they know what a potential valuable market is, what a new product development process looks like, uh, what independent third party tests and evaluation is. So when they build up the models, you know, and I've seen throughout the years of doing this, they are getting better and better and I have to tell you we don't have the corner market anymore. In the United States on commercialization. Just think about it. I talked about it the three segments of Technology, development invention. I still believe the United State, AIDS, is the leader of invention, because I think we still have the Best University college systems in the world. That's why most of these countries around the world send their best students to the US to attend university. But when it comes to innovation commercialization, look at the semiconductor industry, look at some of the auto industry, look at some of the things advanced manufacturing. There are countries that have taken and looked at those inventions and, you know, you know, God applications or innovations first, which then enabled them quickly to go to commercialization, which again, uh, talks about markets, market segments, applications and monetizing this technology. So there are parts of the world that are doing quite well of one of which is China,...

...for example, as well as countries like Korea, Taiwan. I mean we're bragging about, you know, we're getting semiconductor. We needed to get semi conductor here in the United States. The Taiwan ease, you know, really have had the corner market in that. Yeah, Tom I can be on Tommy terms now with you. Tommy, just never called me late for dinner. Go ahead, I said that. He can use that. Even if you wanted to retire. I don't think you can, because there's never been a time I feels like that commercialization has been at such a critical time for this country. It just feels so important right now. True. Plus, we have a lot of dead in this country and we need to generate money for our country and our people and jobs. One thing that every politician I ever met always talks about his jobs, and they understand why. Not only because it win elections, because that drives an economy as well. Well. Tommy, you're truly inspiring. I love these stories and I love what you're doing out in the world. Something I'd like to finish on is is to hear from you throughout your years. What's the best advice you've ever received? The best advice I ever received is it's okay to ask questions. There's no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid answers. And the best thing is from a a relative of mine who I admired. He happened to be a politician, but he wasn't the typical politician you see today. His name was Paul Salucci. He was the two time governor of Massachusetts and then was made the ambassador of Canada. The man never lost an election in thirty nine years and he happened to be a Republican in a Democratic Commonwealth called Massachusetts. And I used to just say to myself how could this be? He,...

Paulie, never lost an election. Why? He had a simple operating philosophy be nice and listen. Paul didn't care if you were an independent, Democrat, Republican, anything. If you had an idea that would help the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, he wanted to hear it. And if you happen to be hungry too and you like Spaghetti, he took you to the North End and you had a bowl of Spaghetti to talk over it with. And I think this idea of be nice, be helpful genuinely and ask questions and then in turn listen and make sure when you give answers, you give the correct answers, especially to young people. That's wonderful. I love it and I also love a nice dinner in the North End. Tommy, that's highly recommended. I really appreciate everything you do, and I appreciate your time here. Thanks so much, and it was great, George. Thank you. You been listening to see sweet blueprint. If you like what you've heard, be sure to hit subscribe wherever you get your podcast to make sure you never miss a new episode. And while you're there, we'd love it if you could leave a rady. Just give us however many stars you think we deserve. Until next time.

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