Three members of the TOUGH development team (Yingqi Zhang, Nic Spycher, and Stefan Finsterle)—scientists from the Energy Geosciences Division—participated in Lab-Corps, a six-week entrepreneurial boot camp, or “cohort”, facilitated by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which aims at accelerating the transfer of clean energy technologies from national laboratories to the commercial marketplace.
The team was tasked to evaluate the market potential of LBNL’s TOUGH (Transport Of Unsaturated Groundwater and Heat) suite of multiphase flow simulators for geothermal reservoir engineering and other application areas. Hypotheses about the needs and problems of potential customers were formulated and then tested by conducting 54 interviews with companies and individuals that are directly or indirectly involved with simulation technology. The information gathered in this customer discovery process was continuously analyzed to generate a business model that describes:
- what the key value propositions are for each customer segment,
- how a relationship with the customer can be established and maintained,
- how the technology can be delivered to the customer,
- what resources and partnerships are required to perform key activities, and
- how large the costs and revenue streams are likely to be.
The instructions and critical feedback from the Lab-Corps faculty and the active participation in the customer discovery process provided the team with valuable insights into the strengths and shortcomings of the TOUGH simulator, including which current and new application areas are particularly suitable for TOUGH. Moreover, the team was able to more clearly identify the challenges faced by users of the TOUGH software, be they in academia, government research institutes, or private industry.Finsterle recalls his experience as “a unique opportunity and learning experience. Not only did we obtain a better understanding of the commercialization process, but also a recognition and appreciation of the way scientific projects in an applied research environment can be improved by approaching technology development from an entrepreneurial perspective.”
As an immediate outcome of Lab-Corps, LBNL’s Innovation and Partnership Office and the TOUGH developers discuss the revision of the licensing and pricing options for the TOUGH software. Go to the TOUGH website to learn more about current code developments, documentation of capabilities and applications, as well as training courses and symposia.