Tucked away in a quiet corner of the Technology Center at Innovation Park, you’ll find the offices of Don McCandless and Jim Pietropaolo. Experts in technology start-ups, they serve as Directors of Business Development for Ben Franklin Technology Partners, an economic development program with 30+ years of experience helping technology companies grow.

McCandless and Pietropaolo are resources for start-ups that participate in the TechCelerator program (mentoring sessions to help launch technology-based start-ups) and for individuals who have intellectual property and are looking for business advice. They urge all researchers with an idea and intellectual property to utilize their services.

What They Offer
The team teaches people what it takes to start a business and help the science-minded think in entrepreneurial terms.

“Founders have a tendency to underestimate the importance of commercialization,” Pietropaolo said. “Sometimes they think the development of the technology is the tough part and the commercialization should be easy. The reality is both parts have challenges and have to be taken seriously. Even a great technology can fail with a weak commercialization effort.”

In addition to McCandless and Pietropaolo, Ben Franklin offers experts in human resources, accounting and finance, and market research methods to ensure companies have the resources to succeed.

Who They’re Looking for
The ideal candidate for the TechCelerator session is a group or individual who has an idea, prototype, or proof of concept in the technology field.

“We’re looking for people who can launch a business within 12 to 18 months,” McCandless said. “We want to invest time in people who have an idea we can develop.”

He lists commitment, time, money, and passion as critical for candidates for the program.

Their Credentials
McCandless has spent years working in small businesses or start-ups. Prior to joining Ben Franklin, he served as CEO of local chromatography pioneer Restek. Much like other entrepreneurs, he learned some valuable lessons the hard way.

Earlier in his career, McCandless joined a friend’s software company in its infancy. However, with few resources available and limited entrepreneurial knowledge, they couldn’t grow the business.

“It failed miserably because we had no money—and there weren’t any resources available like there are today to actually help us,” McCandless said.

Pietropaolo worked for health industry giants like Johnson & Johnson and GE Healthcare for 25 years and various start-ups for the past 10 years where he helped develop multiple medical devices.

“I launched at least 40 medical devices in my career before coming to Ben Franklin, with some becoming gold-standard technologies in the marketplace,” Pietropaolo said. “That included bone densitometry and bringing the first color-flow ultrasound and intraoperative ultrasound products in the world to the United States. Those were great learning, market development, and product launch experiences.”

Pietropaolo also helped grow those companies until they were acquired.

Taking the First Steps
McCandless and Pietropaolo require their clients to take part in what they call customer discovery, an essential first step for a company to find their sweet spot (the “spot where passion, purpose, and potential merge with the needs of a target audience,” according to theologian Frederick Buechner).

“A lot of founders are insular,” Pietropaolo said. “They make assumptions about how their technology will be used by potential customers, and often those assumptions are inaccurate.”

Founders are challenged to gather consumer feedback that will either validate their business plan or force them to rethink their strategy.

“I like seeing that ‘Aha!’ moment,” McCandless said. “It’s the validation of helping someone and seeing how it shifts their paradigm.”

Keeping Their Doors Open
Though companies move on from the TechCelerator, their relationships with McCandless and Pietropaolo don’t cease to exist—they simply evolve.

Many companies still seek their guidance in areas such as HR and accounting. Others are more independent, but the TechCelerator team keeps lines of communication open.

“During our sessions, we’re pretty busy, but on the off-cycle, we reach out and see how graduates of past sessions are doing,” McCandless said.

Ultimately, they want to see companies flourish, but McCandless and Pietropaolo know success doesn’t always happen overnight.

“Success is really spotty,” McCandless said. “Sometimes it’s timing. You may have a brilliant idea and a great solution, but can you get it to market and get enough people to understand it? Have you priced it right? Can you build it? There are all kinds of things that have to go right for something to be successful.”