Lost in Translation


Many of our clients are technologists. Scientists. Folks who have brilliant ideas, underdog ingenuity, and the drive to make their businesses succeed. They come to us, however, to help them solve a problem: articulating the business value of their inventions to investors, the media, and potential customers.

That’s where translation comes in. You must describe your company and your technology so that people both understand it and care about it.

This process is not easy. But it is necessary. Assume for a moment that you’re an investor (and maybe you are). After reading the paragraphs below, would you understand what this company does and why you should be interested?

Reverse osmosis (RO) involves the reversal of flow through a membrane from a high salinity, or concentrated, solution to the high purity, or ‘permeate,’ stream on the opposite side of the membrane. Pressure is used as the driving force for the separation. The applied pressure (P) must be in excess of the osmotic pressure of the dissolved contaminants to allow flow across the membrane.

Our technologies use spiral-wound membranes to desalt and demineralize process water. The membrane’s operating conditions are fine-tuned to balance the flux with the specific rejection rates of contaminants to achieve up to 99.8% salt rejection at low pressures and high flux rates.

Neither could we. Here’s the translation into English:

Reverse osmosis separation technology is used to remove impurities from water through the use of a semi-permeable membrane. It is effective in the removal of dissolved solids, bacteria, pyrogens and organic contaminants.

The technology is used by municipalities and industrial facilities to ensure a consistently pure drinking water supply and to transform drinking water to high purity water for industrial use in the production of microelectronics, food and beverage, power, and pharmaceuticals.

Ah. Now we get it. Now we see the potential business value.

Translating technology effectively and efficiently can take years—even decades—of practice. But chances are, you don’t have the time to hone your skills, and you’re probably focusing on tasks that are more central to your core business.

How do you know if you need help with technology translation? Take a look at your company description and ask yourself:

  • Would someone without a Ph.D. understand what my company does?
  • Would a potential customer understand what my company does?
  • Would an investor comprehend the business potential of my technology?
  • Could the media copy and paste this into an article?

If you answered no to any of the above, consider some outside help. Often, a pair of fresh eyes can be of immense value. Have a colleague or friend—a layperson with no relevant technical background—read your elevator pitch, and then ask them if they understand it. If they don’t, have them circle the terms or phrases that they don’t understand or that are ambiguous. Then rewrite those terms or phrases in layperson terms until your audience does understand. You’ll be glad you did.

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