Turning an idea into a profit-making prototype

by Jim Taylor, Florida SBDC at USF

So, you have just come up with a great idea for a product invention. Great, who hasn’t?  The truth is if you don’t have a prototype, you don’t’ have an idea. You have an idea for an idea.

If you take the idea in your head, or written on a napkin, or even some detailed drawings to a bank and ask for a loan; you will most likely not get one if the banker has any sense.  If you cannot invest the time and take the actions to create a real physical prototype for your idea, not many people other than your family or friends will give you money to create the product.

Begin by not telling too many people.  Check with an intellectual property attorney about how to protect your idea before telling the world, you may actually lose the right to patent the product. The attorney may do a patent search, or file a provisional or regular patent for you.  Once you have the go ahead to talk about it, do so.

Creating a product if you are not handy can be quite difficult.  A simple mock up is a great place to start.  Many cities have “Maker” labs or spaces to assist inventors in creating prototypes or cool things.  Tampa Hackerspace, founded by Bill Shaw, is just the sort of place. The membership club offers “Open Make Nights” as well as classes on 3D printing, and other technical fields that may enable you to create your product without having years of training. A mock-up prototype is great, but a functional one is better even if it is not pretty to look at.

The final prototype is important to market to investors and potentially the retail public.  A final prototype can be taken to engineering firms for prototype development.  Sometimes this can be quite expensive.  A cheaper alternative is to use a 3D printing company for rapid prototyping.  One company in the Tampa region is The Object Shop.  These types of companies can assist by creating the engineering drawings needed for 3D printed prototype and complete the work sometimes cheaper than other traditional prototyping companies.

Now that you have your prototype, you can use it to approach potential investors and customers.  Taking pre-orders and pre-sales can help validate if you actually have a good idea that people are willing to buy.  Everyone has a great idea once in a while, however, very few people go through with creating a functional prototype of their invention.

Without a prototype, ideas will remain unfulfilled dreams.