Inventing in today's ever changing business market can be daunting. We are regularly asked, by new inventors, questions such as “How do I know if I'm ready for manufacturing? What is the new product development process? Can I make my own prototypes? When should I file patents?” While the answers to these questions are unique to each product design and project, there are a few things you should know before you try to invent something.
1. Market Research
When time is of the essence to get your product to market, it is tempting to want to run to a design firm with paper napkin sketches. However, overlooking certain details and rushing to invent something without a solid grasp of what is needed can cost you a lot later on. Before registering a Kickstarter account, or looking up local design firms, you need to do one essential thing first: market research. What is the demand for your product? Who is your target audience? If your product does not solve a problem or fill a gap in the current market, then you may want to rethink your idea. Similarly if you are targeting a very small market or a market that does not have much use for your product, you may find your success to be limited. You should also research if there are similar products currently on the market. If so, how will you improve on what is currently out there?
2. Patent Research
Along these lines, you need to research whether your idea is patentable. If a patent already exists for your product, then you will need to go back to the drawing board. USPTO.gov provides resources for searching patents, but the process can be arduous if you do not know what you are looking for. If you are unsure of how to proceed, you may want to seek out an attorney who specializes in patent law. The Inventors Assistance Center (IAC) through the USPTO is a resource hotline that can answer your questions on how the patent process works and guide you on what forms you need. We recommend developing a marketable product, before beginning the filing process. If you file too early you can spend a lot of money adjusting the patent to mirror design changes made during the development process.
3. Funding Research
Once you have some solid research under your belt, then you can start pitching your idea for startup capital. This money is used to develop your initial prototypes. Doing a quick google search will net you several avenues for seeking out angel investors and crowdfunding. Sites like AngelList and Gust allow you to search for investors in your area as well as your industry. Another option is to join an accelerator or incubator program. These programs offer resources to grow your business and connect you with venture capital firms as well as other business resources. Most of them offer mentor programs, business and marketing seminars, and networking opportunities. Additionally, check with your local university. Universities such as Northwestern and UConn offer courses and opportunities for young entrepreneurs.
While inventing is never a sure thing, you will be much better equipped to handle whatever comes your way, as you invent your product, with these three essentials solidly under your belt. Now you can begin the process on choosing a product development company and be well on your way to bringing your idea to life.