How to do a 360° search with Mergeflow

A 360° search explores a topic from different angles. These angles include venture capital investments, markets, patents, scientific publications, news and blogs, research projects, and others.

Rather than researching every nook and cranny of a topic, the goal of a 360° search is to get a first useful approximation to a topic. Put more concretely, we want to discover roughly 5-7 findings (details depend on your topic, and on your goal). A finding could be a company, a market, an expert, a research project, or an interesting research paper or blog article, for example.

See how it works, in this video from our Tech Discovery for Innovators course:

How to get a 360° view on a topic ->

Very often, technical sources such as R&D publications or patents use different language than news or blogs to describe similar things. For example, technical sources might call something "C-RNN" or "recurrent neural network", whereas news or blogs might call it "artificial intelligence". So it's sometimes a good idea to OR-combine several terms, in order to avoid lopsided results.

In total, a 360° search should not take longer than about 20 minutes. Below we walk you through the various data sets that you can use for your 360° search.

The sections of this article are mostly independent of each other. You can use the links below to go directly to sections that interest you most.

If you'd like to read some more background on effective search strategies for tech discovery, we recommend our blog article, 'How to get better search results for tech discovery'.

Furthermore, we have made a 360° search checklist. You could also go to this checklist first, and then come back to this article for more in-depth information.

Or, if you are more of a "visual type", you might find our 360° visual checklist useful. Click on the image below to get the complete checklist:

360° Search Visual Checklist

We also made a more detailed 360° search flowchart. The complete flowchart is quite long. Here is an excerpt:

The Flow of a 360° Search

1. Venture Capital

Venture capital investments are a good place for discovering market-relevant innovations early on. These innovations could be technologies or business models.

venture capital investments in "computational materials discovery"

Image above: Venture capital investments in the area of computational materials discovery. Some companies in this chart have received multiple investments (Citrine Informatics, for example).

If your search returns a small number of funding events, e.g. 10 or less, it's probably a good idea to look at all of them. If the number is a lot larger, we recommend more of a "probing and sampling" strategy. Like this, for example:

  • What do the most recently funded companies do, and what do the companies with the biggest funding rounds do? Are they different?
  • Who are the investors? Any surprises there? Or are your competitors among the investors? If so, zoom in on those and see which companies are associated with them.

2. Markets

The 'Markets' section shows you data from published market estimates on and around your topic. For example, the image below shows market data for the topic smart city.

Market information for the topic of "smart cities".

The scatterplot, (1), gives you a sense of  analyst consensus regarding your topic's market size and growth rate. Each dot corresponds to one market estimate.

Then you can see companies that analysts associate with your query, in (2).

Finally, in (3), there are markets that don't directly match your query but that are relevant in your query's context. We call these "context markets". If there are multiple estimates for the same market, we show them all (e.g. "internet of things" in the example above).

Context markets are useful for discovering applications, required materials, or relevant adjacent technologies, all in the context of your query. You could use these context markets to inspire further queries, for example.

3. Patents

The image below shows patents for smart city. By default, Mergeflow shows patent families for the past ten years.

For our patent class tag cloud, in order to make things more human-readable, we have replaced the CPC codes (e.g. "H04W") with short labels (e.g. "wireless networks"). When you move your mouse over a patent class tag, you can still see the CPC code and the official patent class description though.

Patent classes are a good place to discover applications. If you see one that interests you, click on it in order to see the patents associated with this patent class or application.

You can also zoom in to see more details, by clicking on... the upper left (see image above). Then, you could call up a "Person" tag cloud, for example. "Person" in the case of patents are the inventors. In order to see more inventors, increase the number of tags:

Inventors may be interesting people to get in touch with. You can do this via LinkedIn, for example.

The "inventors" social graph (= who co-patents with whom) could also be interesting. In order to see this, you could open a graph view, by clicking the icon at the lower right of the tag cloud (see image above).

4. Science Publications

The image below shows the "Science Publications" section of a 360° view for the topic 5G networks. You can use the "emerging technologies" tag cloud to zoom in on subtopics, such as "smart city":

5. Technology Licensing

Here you can find technologies available for licensing and commercialization from universities and R&D organizations (see our data sets article for more details). Technology licensing offers tend to be early-stage technologies. The image below shows tech licensing offers from the area of precision agriculture.

Zooming in on technology licensing findings can be a good way of finding relevant R&D organizations and experts.

6. Technology Blogs

You could think of technology blogs as a bridge between “smart non-expert” and “subject matter expert”. The smart non-expert can read and understand tech blogs, but then also ask the subject matter expert about the R&D papers that are often referenced in the blogs.

Mergeflow algorithmically tags blog contents with matching emerging technologies from across various industries. These emerging technologies are displayed in a tag cloud, here for the topic of LiDAR:

You can use the emerging technologies tag cloud to associate and generate new ideas. For example, in the image above, you could click on "Unmanned Vehicle" and then explore the connections between LiDAR and unmanned vehicles.

Tech blogs are a great place for discovering future scenarios and use cases.

Related articles in our blog:

How to talk like a business person (if you are a scientist)

How to talk like a scientist (if you are a business person)

7. Industry News

For our 360° search, you can probably keep this short. In the companies tag cloud, check for unexpected names, given your topic. If you see any, zoom in on those. You could also check your topic's trend over time. The image below shows an example for the topic of CRISPR.

8. Research Projects

These are publicly funded research projects from the US, UK, EU, and Germany (see our article on Mergeflow data sets). As a first step, you could explore some of the biggest projects. The image below shows research projects in the area of biocatalysts:

Then, you can zoom in on the more detailed view by clicking....

Research projects are a  good place for discovering relatively early-stage, innovative companies.

One research funding program in particular, SBIR, is particularly useful for finding companies. To get there, zoom in on SBIR fundings, like in the image below for the topic of biocatalysts:

In this detailed view, you can select between the different funding programs. You can also export your findings as a CSV file.

9. Clinical Trials

Of course, clinical trials are mostly relevant for life science or health topics. But even if your query is not on life science, if it does return hits in clinical trials, they might be worth a look.

Clinical trials are expensive. Therefore, if you find clinical trials for your query, this might indicate strong interest in your topic in the health sector.

In another article, we cover in more detail how you can work with clinical trials in Mergeflow. This includes exploring clinical trials by trial phase.

The image below shows clinical trials in the area of mRNA (messenger RNA). The tag cloud shown for clinical trials uses disease names that conform to ICD-10 standard.

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