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.