Six tips on how help from a peer organization can ease innovation development

With all due respect to Ralph Waldo Emerson, building a better mousetrap far from guarantees that the world will beat a path to your door.

I spent months developing, prototyping and even patenting a product. Then, when the bugs were worked out, I put out press releases and even did some advertising. I was waiting expectantly to hear cash registers ringing, but all heard was the disappointing sound of crickets chirping — a costly lesson.

So what did I learn?

First, I didn’t run my plans to create a product past anyone with experience innovating and bringing a new product to market. I didn’t do market research. Further, my attempt to pour money into an advertising campaign was a waste. Conducting innovation and development in a vacuum is an extremely risky proposition.

What have I changed?

The most important step forward was to join a peer-to-peer organization; in my case, the Cleveland chapter of EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization) and taking the time to learn what other entrepreneurs utilize for go-to-market strategies. By being in an open, safe and experienced-based environment that enabled me to be confident and to be surrounded by with supporters who allowed me to formulate my current process, I learned to focus on a positive result in order to move on to the next.

What does that look like?

Here’s the thumbnail version:

  • When visiting customers, have your salesforce look for gaps in your product offering, specifically weaknesses areas where your product isn’t making the customer’s life easier. Use this to formulate a product idea.
  • Once you have an idea, talk to several more key customers to see if the problem is worth solving. If so, how much would they be willing to spend for the product? If the amount is in a range of profitability, go to next step.
  • Collaborate to hone the idea (the more people who are smarter in this group than you, the better). One caution: be sure non-disclosure, confidentiality and employment agreements are in place to protect your ownership of the product.
  • Go back to key customers with the innovation and gauge their interest. Get commitments to test it at their facility along with signed confidentiality agreements.
  • Build the prototype and test it; make design adjustments as feasible.
  • Evaluate whether it is worth patenting. My criteria is simple: Is it unique enough that competitors will have to go to great lengths and expense to get around it; and/or will getting a patent offer a marketing advantage large enough to justify the cost?

Obviously, this patent or statutory patent must be applied for before rollout.

Is this the most definitive process for innovating a successful product out there? Probably not. Is it better than innovating in a vacuum and keeping your fingers crossed? Definitely. Take it from someone who’s done it both ways.

Tom Hobson
Abanaki Corp.

Tom is the founder of Abanaki Corp. and Aerodyne Environmental, companies that manufacturer water and air pollution control solutions to make our world a cleaner place for the next generation.

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