When I composed the original blog Post “For would-be inventors, or aspiring entrepreneurs – Five things worth thinking about before you begin “, I was struck by the notion of how difficult and unforgiving the market can be to an aspiring inventor. This is not to suggest that one shouldn’t pursue their dreams; it’s more about understanding the challenge associated with bringing an idea to fruition.
In my recent conversation with a mid-size industrial design firm, the conversation and responding emails pointed out their struggle in working with startup contacts, companies pre-vesting, and those lacking a business plan. They also pointed out that in their experience, “significant funding” would be required to “take a product to market the right way (i.e. alpha, beta, production phases – contract manufacturing)”.
One law firm we know who deals in intellectual property and patent law does not represent individual inventors; they represent corporate and university clients, only. They go on to suggest that the road to success has many pitfalls and challenges, and they recommend the individual inventor should seek out the Inventors Resources of the USPTO for assistance and direction. Filing a patent can be time-consuming and costly. Also, some changes are afoot regarding patents on what should prevail in granting the patent: “first to invent” (current system), or “first to file” (proposed change through new legislation).
In some ways, you can see that the likelihood of success may not be in the lone inventor’s favor. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done. What’s important to know is what you are getting yourself into before you start. By removing the would-be portion of the equation, you can increase the odds in your favor.
First and foremost, develop your idea or invention into a reasonably working prototype. Although an attractive design in a CAD file may sound like a good soapbox to promote your idea, it won’t go far in attracting interest or investment. Like the adage “A picture is worth a thousand words”, there is nothing like being able to hold something in your hands and get a feel for how it works.
Once you have a good feel for your invention – at the risk of bad grammar, something that kind of works like it should – either begin to work with a local, independent design firm, or try your hand at working drawings with software like Google SketchUp; start out with the free version, then upgrade to PRO (you’ll likely need the PRO version to get some rapid prototypes built). Don’t forget the NDA (non-disclosure agreement) before sharing information, designs, or materials with others.
Assuming you get this far, get that business plan underway. Hopefully this exercise will quickly surface just how much money you’ll need to get your invention from idea into action. Also, begin the show-and-tell (assuming you are protecting your intellectual property in the process) to close friends and business associates. The best advice I can give here is don’t get defensive if they think you have lost your mind. Overcome objections or deficiencies in the same way you would respond to your choice of entrée in a restaurant; politely defend your choice, but listen to the reason your fellow diners are questioning your selection or taste buds.
Ready to go to market? You will need to have a proof-positive production run to show people you are serious about selling your invention; that’s not going to be a cheap endeavor. I recently followed two inventions from different companies that are sold into the home improvement market (suited to the average homeowner). Both inventions retail in the under $25 MSRP range. From what I could read, they each took about $250,000 of investment to enter the market; each one now enjoys distribution and sale in the big-box home improvement centers. Also, both inventions appeared to show an 18-24 month development cycle from idea to sales success.
With a few good steps along the way, you can move from “would-be inventor” to full-fledged entrepreneur. By securing adequate funding, exercising careful development of your product, and acquiring solid sales and distribution channels, you stand a better chance to turn your idea into a high-growth company.