It was a typical lunch with my friend Frank, an aspiring gadget inventor. His brilliant idea rested on a cocktail napkin as he lamented, “I just know this is the Next Big Thing, but how will I get it produced without going bankrupt?” My friend may have delusions of grandeur about his idea, but he struggles with a well-known reality — even if it is the Next Big Thing, he needs to have a design drawn up and he probably can't afford to take his idea to production in the U.S. But Frank has little (if any) knowledge of alternative production resources.
For this inventor's dilemma, solutions include turning to a contract manufacturer (CM), licensing the idea or locating an investor. While aligning with these resources can transform ideas like Frank's into working prototypes, the process usually presents challenges at every step.
Before determining which solution to use prior to creating your prototype, there are several critical issues to consider that will impact your product's overall success.
Consider Your Need for a Patent Arranging for a patent too early can be a costly mistake, so be sure you understand the marketplace and whether your idea “as is” will sell before submitting your design to the patent office.
The Business Plan With minimal financial resources and a larger-than-life idea, a business plan goes a long way to attracting the right partner (either domestic or overseas), licensee or investor. Decide on your ideal financier and develop your plan accordingly.
Determine Product Marketability Most inventors underestimate sales' channels and how to market, but determining marketability can be the most important (and most difficult) step to the success of your product. Properly identifying your target customers, competition, price points, etc. will guarantee your idea is a hit when it reaches the marketplace.
How the Product Will Be Produced If you've decided to forego the licensing and investor routes, the next step is to determine a partner that can cost-effectively produce your product — determining materials, methods and start-up costs. This is where a quality CM, that offers both design services and offshore manufacturing capabilities, can help.
If you do choose to go the CM route, you'll need to ensure they will work closely with you on your design needs and offer intellectual property protection with proven policies in place to protect your confidential information. A CM who offers concept-to-completion under one roof presents the most efficient process, saving you time and money.
In the end, I may be able to offer hope for my friend Frank, the would-be gadget inventor. An idea resting on a cocktail napkin can be brought to life without the hassles and costs traditionally associated with both domestic and offshore manufacturing. And if Frank plays his cards right, it just might be the “Next Big Thing.”
Applied Research Associates has delivered several of its Pointman Tactical Robots to the CBP in Tucson, which the agency is using to explore drainage tunnels that run between Nogales, Ariz., and Nogales, Mexico. These tunnels are out of sight from border surveillance and are increasingly being used for illegal activity.