Establishing a successful startup in today’s ever changing business market can be daunting. We are regularly asked, by new entrepreneurs, questions such as “How do I take my concept design to production? What is the new product development process? How long will the engineering design process take? When should I file patents?” While the answers to these questions are unique to each design and startup, there are a few things you should consider when beginning the process and selecting a design firm.
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 into the process 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: 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?
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.
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.
With some capital in your pocket, your next decision is choosing a design firm to engineer your product. Choosing a good design firm is essential to having a quality, cost effective design that you can bring to market in a reasonable amount of time. In our experience there are four elements to focus on when reviewing your options.
Trust begins with the first phone call. Are they responsive to your needs? Do they understand the product? Are you given the run around before speaking with someone? Are you able to speak with anyone at all or are you sent directly to a voicemail box, never to be heard from again? At Synectic we pride ourselves on always having a live person in the office available to answer your call. When you speak with one of our engineers you will not be bogged down in unpronounceable nomenclature and complicated acronyms. Our design process is broken down into easy to understand steps and milestones applicable to the client’s needs. This not only confirms you are speaking the same language but also conveys to the client how much more effort is possible beyond the current scope. In fact, using terms that are more client based improves the communication to other stake holders not present in initial meetings. This leads to a minimization of possible disconnects between the client and the design firm. A low pressure, educational based approach with detailed fixed-fee proposals, listed out deliverables, and a manageable timeline and cost, builds trust.
Typically, in even the most experienced and well-versed design firms, there is not an exact project that mimics a client’s new idea. As the client you want to ask yourself how much experience do they have designing similar projects? Do they outsource most of the work or can they handle it in house? Do they have the resources and experience needed to see your idea through the entire development process including production? Synectic in conjunction with MACK Molding have over 130 combined years of development and production experience, giving us a complete portfolio of design projects that can be applied to any client’s needs. We have the ability to keep your design in house seeing it all the way from a white sheet of paper to a product ready to hit store shelves.
- Documentation & Communication
Critical to any project is the communication and documentation of the effort. Projects stop and start all the time depending on a client’s decision making timeline, their cash flow, and major design changes. Keeping a history on how the design arrived to where it is, is critical. This design history file or DHF includes weekly updates, meeting minutes, test reports and all the quality documentation associated with your project. Ask the design firm how they handle documentation. Are they ISO certified or compliant? How are you kept up to date on your design’s process? Can you call and speak with the team at any time? Most importantly get referrals from previous clients.
Discuss the documentation process and communication process. How robust are the procedures in place and are they followed. This seems trivial, however, failure to execute good communication and documentation results in a project that is a complete waste of time and money. Here at Synectic we have seen it time and again where a client will bring what they believe to be a completed design to our firm, but will have none of the documentation to go with it. Without the required documentation you are left with two choices to either reverse engineer the design or to start from the beginning. To circumvent miscommunication we offer weekly meetings with the engineering team. Team members are available to discuss your design at any time and DHF files are meticulously kept in accordance with our rigorous quality guidelines, ensuring everything you need is in one location available at a moment’s notice.
Websites today can make a one-man design firm appear significant. Taking the time to visit the firm, meet the team, and take a tour will quickly separate and distinguish one firm from one another. Not only will you see the infrastructure, but also potential resources that can be utilized for your current project as well as future endeavors. Typical one-man shops can create CAD models, but do they have a quality system? Can they build and test prototypes? Can they simulate on the bench the environment that the product will be used? Are they equipped to handle pilot production of your finished product? Synectic offers a fully functioning machine shop on site, 3D printing capabilities, wet lab and bench testing facilities. We can handle pilot and low volume production of your designs and our parent company MACK Molding can accommodate high volume manufacturing. When you visit our firm you will meet with our staff of engineers who will walk you through our process, before leading you on a tour of our facility so you can personally see what we have to offer.
As demonstrated above, choosing a design firm is a big decision. Avoid committing to a big project and instead opt for a small project where you can add on additional scopes and phases as you become more comfortable with the team. Small projects allow you to dip your toes in before diving headfirst into a commitment with a design firm and provide an escape route if things go south once the honeymoon period is over. Good firms understand this and will want to build a long-term development relationship one proposal at a time.
Synectic has been designing and developing projects for over 35 years. With capabilities in industrial design, mechanical design, medical device design, production design, and design manufacturing we have engineered hundreds of projects over this time period and have helped developed a robust process that can save time and money for each of our clients. We would be happy to help answer any questions you may have about the new product development process. How can we help bring your product to market?