Virginia Tech Magazine
Feature -|- Summer 2006

Business Technology Center | Assisting entrepreneurs, educating students, and supporting economic development
by Sookhan Ho

Although he had already established a successful business in Virginia Beach, Va., providing mobile medical laser technologies to hospitals and surgery centers in the mid-Atlantic area, Marvin "Skip" Schuelke (marketing management '69) wanted to expand his company.

"We wanted expertise to determine how this business model could be replicated and expanded with other minimally invasive technologies and in new areas," says Schuelke, whose company, Schuelke Laser Systems, serves urology specialists who need the latest technology but prefer not to buy the equipment. Before he moved forward, Schuelke needed answers to some key questions: What were the economies of scale? How was his company different from the competition? And what were the risks of expanding?

In Blacksburg, Darrell Davis (industrial engineering and operations research '82; M.S. '84), an executive with experience at a Fortune 500 company in Chicago, had launched a company called Flow Tech to make and distribute drinking straws. "We intend to provide a unique and fun twist on straws that will excite consumers," says Davis. Fun aside, he needed serious information on the available market opportunities -- especially for small, minority-owned businesses -- and on the competition.

Chris Zanardi sought comprehensive market research for Flight Explorer, a McLean, Va., provider of Internet-based, real-time global flight-tracking information systems. Zanardi, Flight Explorer's marketing director, was particularly interested in learning about the size of the company's global market, including the name and number of airlines and airports, as well as a thorough, competitive analysis of its flight-tracking and aircraft-messaging products.

Zanardi, Davis, and Schuelke are among the many entrepreneurs and business professionals who have sought expert and affordable assistance from Virginia Tech's Business Technology Center (BTC), one of the university's several programs aimed at promoting economic development in the region and the state. While assisting businesses, the BTC also provides students with extraordinary opportunities for experiential learning by working directly on projects with business owners or managers.

Business Technology Center

In addition to one-on-one counseling from Dick Daugherty '63, clients receive the assistance of top students whom he employs, trains, and supervises. Left to right: Andrew Dameron (second-year M.B.A. student), Daugherty, Sneha Kishnani (senior biology student), and Jonathan Berisford (second-year M.B.A. student).

Davis says that he enlisted BTC's help after reviewing a senior design project report by engineering students that gave him an early sense of industry revenue, growth prospects, key competitors, financial risks, and equipment capability.

The follow-up work with BTC, he says, "provided a greater level of detail on the initial information, as well as potential customer segmentation data," adding that the information "is very useful in terms of preparing capital financing, manufacturing scenarios, and the overall logistics needed to plan the start-up."

Schuelke says that BTC's various services "have been more valuable and more productive than those previously provided by large accounting and legal firms -- and from a cost standpoint, it is an excellent deal." He reports being "especially impressed with the caliber of the Pamplin College of Business students who have contributed and presented research during our four-year association with BTC."

Zanardi, who learned about BTC through Flight Explorer CEO James B. Kelley III (business administration '63), says, “BTC had the ability to meet our requirements and provide the 'best value; solution. Its report will be instrumental in the development of a successful international sales and marketing plan."

A key resource

Managed by the Pamplin College and located in the university's Corporate Research Center, BTC has been a key resource for emerging and evolving technology-based companies for more than a dozen years. Its focus on technology-oriented businesses distinguishes it from other small-business assistance programs, says BTC director Dick Daugherty (civil engineering '63), who has more than 25 years of experience in business and product development, technology management, and corporate ventures.

BTC's services, Daugherty says, cover key aspects of small-business operations: market research, market opportunity assessment, competitive analysis, market strategy development, business plan development, and financial modeling.

In addition to one-on-one counseling from Daugherty, clients receive the assistance of top students whom he employs, trains, and supervises. When appropriate, clients are offered the specialized expertise of faculty members. The center can also provide referrals to independent consultants, as well as to venture capitalists through its ties with VT KnowledgeWorks, the university's technology business incubator.

During the past fiscal year, BTC logged more than 6,000 consulting hours in helping more than 50 Virginia high-tech businesses. Through projects over the past few years, Daugherty says, the center has identified business opportunities with the potential of creating more than 1,000 new jobs. The center also helped set up a similar operation in Martinsville, Va. The two offices work closely together to provide business assistance, with the Southside BTC concentrating on clients in that part of the state.

Dick Daugherty

BTC director Dick Daugherty plans to continue
expanding the center's services -- originally
intended to cater to local and regional needs --
to assist businesses in every corner of the state.

His single biggest task often is networking, Daugherty says: "finding new clients and getting the word out about BTC. People who need us haven't heard of us."

A common problem among BTC clients, Daugherty finds, is lack of time to collect the data needed to make a decision that is typically market-related. "'What do customers want? Is there a real need for this product or service? Who's doing it already? What's the size of the market?' These are the questions we get." Sometimes, he adds, "the clients haven't even gotten that far -- they haven't had time to figure out the questions they need to ask. All they have is an idea for the product and an idea of potential demand."

Other times, he finds that the client's business model does not work for the business in mind. Many clients also don't know how to do research efficiently on the Internet.

An experienced expert

Daugherty knows technology and business -- and academe. Trained as an engineer -- he also earned his master's degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering and Ph.D. in engineering mechanics, both from the University of Delaware -- Daugherty spent eight years at Delaware as a faculty member and assistant dean of engineering before moving to the corporate world.

He managed corporate ventures at Exxon and Atlantic Richfield before joining Alcan Aluminum, where he stayed 18 years, heading up product development and business-opportunity review efforts at the company's centers and labs in Canada; England; and Cambridge, Mass. As director of Alcan's fabrication research and development center in Kingston, Ont., he led a 100-person materials and product development effort. He was also part of the company's global management team that set R&D strategy and was responsible for developing the annual technology plan and meeting its objectives.

Joining Virginia Tech in 2004 as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Management, Daugherty was appointed BTC director in June 2005. Helping small entrepreneurs research and develop their technology ideas, he says, is not so different from what he used to do. Whether it's a fledgling undertaking or an established multinational enterprise or something in between, he says, "all new products or ventures have the same fundamental concerns and issues, and the general approach is the same."

Daugherty plans to continue expanding the center's services -- originally intended to cater to local and regional needs -- to assist businesses in every corner of the state. While supporting economic development will remain the backbone of BTC's operations, the center also aims to strengthen ties with its academic community through expanding research, learning, and entrepreneurial opportunities for faculty and students.

Doing business

Students, in particular, gain substantially from working on BTC projects, Daugherty says. They get to apply classroom concepts to actual business problems, and the interactions with clients are good opportunities for polishing interpersonal and communication skills. Most remarkably, perhaps, students get individual instruction in how to think about and tackle a complex assignment; over the semester, Daugherty provides one-on-one guidance and feedback in weekly meetings with each student, which can well serve as a personal course in methods.

BTC's recent young employees have not only been management, marketing, and finance majors, but have also included undergraduates in biochemistry, mechanical and electrical and computer engineering, as well as an M.B.A. student with a bachelor's degree in agricultural economics.

Business Technology Center Among the students who worked on BTC projects this past year were Anita Hernandez (mechanical engineering '06) and M.B.A. student Karim Damak.

"Dr. Daugherty was incredibly helpful in answering questions and giving us a clear project description and materials to start from," says Hernandez, adding that she truly enjoyed her assignment. "Working on a project that is going to produce results and have an impact on the world is very exciting. In classes, you are given a 'real-world' problem that someone has previously solved and are asked to replicate the results. It is not nearly as motivating to do this as it is to be the first one to accomplish something that will be used to benefit a company or individual."

Hernandez, who pursued the biomedical track in her major, worked on a project for Biomedical Implant Technology, a client of VT KnowledgeWorks in Virginia Tech's Corporate Research Center. She was in charge of contacting FDA-approved and -registered companies that manufacture dental implant devices. "My job included compiling a report of these companies, their contact information, pictures and descriptions of the device, and responses I received from the companies."

The project expanded her understanding of the business world, notes Hernandez. "The legalities and paperwork involved with any company or product are not the general focus of most mechanical engineering classes. Most of the time, one focuses on the product, its components and their cost, how it works, ways to make it better -- the mechanical/cost analysis." She adds that it was good "to see the other work involved and to be part of it."

Damak, who earned an undergraduate degree in management at Institut National des Télécommunications near Paris, conducted a market-opportunity assessment study for Appomattox River Manufacturing, a Keysville,Va.-based supplier of high-quality wood components to furniture manufacturers. The study was aimed at helping the company evaluate demand and opportunity for different furniture market segments and decide where to focus its marketing efforts.

Damak researched competitors and market trends and built a roster of potential customers. Having worked on other assignments for the center, he says that not only are the jobs "intellectually stimulating, but "each of the projects has allowed me to understand a new industry and to apply the business and marketing concepts learned in class."

The study for Appomattox River Manufacturing, for example, allowed him to learn about the furniture industry and understand the dynamics of the different market segments. "I recommend this great experience with the BTC to any student," says Damak, who plans to start his own import-export business in electrical equipment.

Daugherty hopes to increase such learning opportunities for Virginia Tech students and is working with several faculty members to arrange for student teams or individuals to assist with projects.

Thumbs-up from clients

BTC has built a good foundation and gained statewide recognition for quality business assistance, says Pamplin Dean Richard E. Sorensen, who chairs BTC's advisory board. "That progress is being continued under Daugherty's leadership."

Undoubtedly, the testimonials that matter most are from the center's clients themselves.
Davis, who is a member of the advisory board of the industrial and systems engineering department, says BTC's assistance was invaluable in getting his company ready for talks with venture capitalists and angel investors. "The BTC report covered a lot of the research required to help develop viable proposals to potential investors and funding sources."

Zanardi says BTC's report is helping the company to prioritize what geographical market segments to go after and what type of customers to pursue. "BTC provides a great service to the business community," he says. "We would use them again."

Schuelke notes that since 2002, his company has achieved an annual growth rate of 30 percent. He is midway through implementing a five-stage strategy for national growth that BTC developed and will be using the center's summary report in his presentation to venture capitalist firms.

"I value the expertise, wisdom, and technical capabilities of BTC," Schuelke says. "Especially for small businesses and entrepreneurs, this service provides support, guidance, and encouragement on a very tough road to success."

Sookhan Ho is the communications manager for the Pamplin College of Business.

Business Technology Center FAQs |

  • What services does BTC offer?
    BTC offers services in market research, market-opportunity assessment, competitive analysis, market-strategy development, business plan development, and financial modeling.
  • How is BTC different from VT KnowledgeWorks?
    Both focus on serving technology-oriented businesses. VT KnowledgeWorks, as a business incubator, offers office, lab, and conference space -- even furniture and office supplies -- and administrative services in addition to day-to-day business assistance to its member companies. The BTC, says director Dick Daugherty, "provides assistance for developing the foundation for a business plan -- such as market opportunity, competitive landscape, and pro-forma financials -- needed to focus the day-to-day business activities." In short, he says, VT KnowledgeWorks helps businesses with daily operations, while BTC conducts projects for their strategic development. For more information on VT KnowledgeWorks, please go to
Business Technology Center
  • I'm interested in getting help from BTC. What is the process like?
    After meeting with prospective clients to discuss their needs, Daugherty drafts -- on a confidential basis -- a statement of the project and the services to be provided. Once the outline has been agreed to, he identifies the most appropriate source for the services required -- a student employee for conducting a competitive analysis, for example, or a patent attorney for assisting with a patent application.
  • Is there a fee?
    The BTC charges a fee based on the stage of development of the client's business, but the fees are generally a fraction of what private consultants charge. "We're a bargain!" says Daugherty. "We're able to minimize the project fees by employing students and because we receive funding from Virginia Tech groups and government agencies."
  • Who are BTC's current supporters?
    The center is sponsored by the Pamplin College of Business, the Corporate Research Center, Virginia Tech Research, Virginia Tech Outreach and International Affairs, the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the towns of Blacksburg and Christiansburg, the Montgomery County Industrial Development Authority, and the Southside Business Technology Center.
  • How do I contact BTC?
    BTC director Dick Daugherty can be reached by mail at 2000 Kraft Drive, Suite 2005, Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, Blacksburg, VA 24060; by phone at 540/443-9290; or by e-mail at

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