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CEO's Desk: Inventing Business

By Michelle Collins |

Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle are among the many prestigious clients that Salma Rajwani and her team count as their partners. As the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Acrodex, and the president of Arcspan Solutions, Rajwani has led the development of a web-based professional services automation (PSA) program considered among the top in its field.

Yet, if she had do to it all over again Rajwani would have spent more on the marketing and business development aspects.

"I would have wanted to do even more of the relationship building, partnerships, and marketing. There just isn't enough. I think that's an area that requires huge concentration, but it's a balancing effort in terms of where you draw the line," says Rajwani.

Striking the balance

While Rajwani wishes that she had spent more time on the marketing aspects of her products, she recognizes that this can be one of the biggest challenges for inventors. When you work on product development you can perfect something and see concrete results. Marketing, on the other hand, is less tangible.

"Marketing and business development, in fairness, is a continuous evolving approach to growth and yet the dollars that are available are just not enough to focus on that area. There's always more of a push to spend the dollars on operational activities."

Profitable partnerships

So, just how does a business in Alberta attract the attention of the world's largest software company? Rajwani was able to use the leverage of her parent company Acrodex, to form connections with Microsoft.

"Microsoft shares a lot of their products and beta-direction strategies with these preferred partners. So we're coming in as a gold partner, we have access to their hotline resources, we have access to their R&D, and access to all the things that are coming around the corner. That just gives us the extra edge in terms of how we want to position the product."

However, Rajwani has a few ideas as to how she would approach the partnership without the support of Acrodex.

"If small companies have their innovations, which could be sector-based or in a certain solution space, I would recommend these companies come together, and using their clout, and their numbers to then start to approach Microsoft."

Government funding

Rajwani also received help from the National Research Council (NRC) and it's Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP). Under the IRAP program, technology companies like Rajwani's can apply for funding to help with research and development that brings the product a step closer to commercialization. Rajwani used her aid to explore where she could take Arcspan into the future.

"There's been some really good discussions with IRAP and the NRC to look at some collaborative relationships. [Small companies] could work through NRC and IRAP to help these companies build relationships like ours. In fact, that is an area I'm working very closely with NRC and IRAP on. We're bringing our vendor relationships to NRC and seeing how we can help the evolving companies to succeed," explains Rajwani.

Avoiding the inventor trap

While Rajwani can count herself as one of the success stories of Canadian inventions, she is well aware of some of the common issues other inventors face, such as getting overwhelmed in the development phase while competitors hit the market faster. This is a dilemma that Rajwani was able to avoid by taking a parallel approach to R&D and the sales and marketing of her products.

"The way that we were able to overcome the hurdle is, as we were developing our solutions we worked very closely with our customers to use that solution in their environment. Acrodex has customers who focus on a whole bunch of different types of business offerings, we were able to test our solutions quickly within our own customer base."

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