Idea Readiness Levels – NASA Version

Idea Readiness Levels – NASA Version

How ready is your startup idea to launch a product? Ideation is the startup stage where you are formulating your concept for the market. Founders often mix vision with reality in their own head and it can be hard to abstract the theory from reality – so it’s hard for them to reconcile the stages of the process. These nine-step guidelines provide steps in the process.

I had the opportunity to hang out at one of the National Labs, specifically Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL) in Richland WA. It’s one of 10 National Labs scattered across the county and historically most famous for Hanford Nuclear site. Today it houses over 4,400 employees in low-slung buildings in the middle of Washington State. It’s run by nonprofit Battelle Memorial Institute. There is nearly $1B a year in research grants from the Department of Energy (DOE).

One of the things that I learned on the visit was that NASA has established a Technology Readiness Level – with an acronym (of course) of TRL. The readiness level ranges from a TRL1, a thought or a back of the napkin idea on the low end to a TRL9 where a function if fully integrated into existing systems and best practices.

Technology Readiness Levels

  • Fundamental research is TRL 1-3 – the three Ideation or Concept stages or proof of concept.
  • Commercialization happens between 4-6 – most known for validation of the idea.
  • The launch is between 7-9 are the prototype through flight proven stages.

Next, how can you apply this to your startup? Let’s break it into the three meta-categories.

  • Proof of concept – if you are copying an existing company, you likely won’t need a proof of concept stage. However, if your idea has never been done before you’ll need to spend extra time here. Can you communicate the concept? Does ti have a critical function?
  • Validation is relevant in the environment – that means get out of the building and validate with someone that isn’t you! This is the MVP stage for today’s tech equivalent.
  • Finally, moving into a production environment, are you ready to go to market given the data that you have from the validation stage?

Finally, what I love about the phrase “flight qualified” is that it is closer to the kick ass product vs the minimum viable product. Would you want to get onto a spacecraft that had a TRL 4 product installed?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *