Hawaiʻi's Technology Community

From Invention To Profit
Roger C. Garrett

I am an inventor. Well, let me be a little more precise. I am inventive. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t think of some improvement to an existing product or service. And on occasion I come up with a truly revolutionary idea or concept. Often I spend considerable effort in sketching out a design or researching the potential applications and markets for the idea. But I hesitate to call myself an actual inventor, since none of these inventions have ever resulted in an actual product. None have generated a penny of income.

The problem, of course, is that although I am an engineer with decades of experience and find it incredibly easy, almost second nature, to come up with new ideas and concepts and approaches to problems, I am just that, an engineer. I am not an entrepreneur, nor a marketer or sales person, nor a business man, manufacturer, or financier. I don’t have the knowledge or experience in those areas, and every one of them is absolutely crucial to turning an invention into a product.

There used to be a program on TV called “The Big Idea”. Each week the host, Donny Deutsch, would bring on some person who had developed some “big idea” and turned it into a successful company or at least a successful product. Mr. Deutsch would always ask how the person went from just the simple seed of a concept to a full-blown product or business generating millions of dollars. Invariably the answer would be that the entrepreneur had worked for years in a related field and already knew the business inside and out, or had met a bunch of friends in college, each with a particular skill, and that together they were able to make it a success. Rarely, very rarely, was there an entrepreneur who had “done it all”, all by himself. It was nearly always a team effort. And it was nearly always serendipity that brought them together. It also seems that the person was more entrepreneur than inventor, in that they had a single “great idea” and pursued it relentlessly, sometimes for decades, until it finally succeeded. I offer that observation in contrast to what I consider a true inventor, one who is always inventing new things, not just once in a lifetime, but as an ongoing, endless stream of creativity.

So what’s a lone inventor (or inventive person) to do?

There are government, and some private, programs that offer what they call “incubators”. These provide relatively low cost office or research space, common office equipment, computers and meeting rooms. All very useful and certainly helpful to the start-up company that needs to keep its costs low. But that presumes the existence of the company itself, of the prior establishment of that team of people. It’s of little use to the lone inventor looking for a way to turn his invention into a product.

Organizations like SCORE are more than willing to provide advice (assuming they have someone with related, and current, expertise in the particular field of your invention), generally telling you that what you need to do is put together a team of people with the right set of skills. Venture capitalists and angels have the money to invest but their first question is always, “who’s your management team?”. And they’re right to offer that advice and ask that question. But how does the inventor get “from here to there”? You never see ads in the classifieds or on job web sites saying, “Experienced management team looking for new inventions”. How do you find that team? You can’t rely on serendipity.

What is needed is a way to link up inventors with the kind of people who know how to turn inventions into products, and are available and enthusiastic about doing so. We need a business partner.
It would seem to me that, particularly in today’s economy with so many people out of work, there should be an abundance of business people who have the experience and desire to join a startup venture and to be a critical part of its success. But where are they and how do we get in touch with them. Perhaps there are business schools that could be contacted to establish a relationship between the inventors and the business teachers and students. Or perhaps we need a new organization specifically for inventors looking for business partners and business people looking for inventors.

There must be some way of doing this. Suggestions are welcome.

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Replies to This Discussion

What sort of things do you want to make?

I am three years into my second web company. I am the one tech guy partnered with one biz guy.

My first business partner was a old college friend. My current business partner was introduced to me through a friend.

At least for me, I can't do it myself. There is too much that needs to get done on the implementation side to try to do both by myself. I am willing to give up a certain amount of control and equity to see it happen.

As far as where to meet potential business partners, I would say try all of the above. Go to the events. Use techhui, linkedin, etc. Cold-call/email companies or people that interest you.

It is difficult to find someone at the right time. It is easier to cast a wide net of contacts in your field all the time and then call on them as the need arises.

It is easier to find someone who cares about your particular thing and see if there is a business opportunity. If you go to a VC or someone who is just in it because it is a venture as opposed to making a good product/service, your goals will not align and things cannot work out well.

My friend in Tokyo hosts small informal brain dumps where people get together and talk about new business ideas. If there are no functions like this, consider starting one yourself. Since coming to Maui, I have really missed this kind of interaction. Recently, I have been having organizing lunch with other software developers. This is great. It keeps me up-to-date. It has even led to some new opportunities.

The key thing is that the person wants to make a great product first.

Lastly, the problem with invention be in physical or software, is the fear of having your idea stolen. You need to let go of that. You can have 5 great ideas you kept to yourself that never happen or get stolen. Or you can talk about it with people left and right, maybe you can find someone as excited as you are.



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