Creating an Invention Prototype

Once you?ve invented a new product and are convinced that you can build a business on it, putting together an invention prototype may be necessary. Here?s how to achieve that crucial step ? without having to shell out too much cash to get it done.

We got our start as entrepreneurs by inventing, developing and licensing the Battery Buddy, a device that prevents dead batteries on cars and boats. And the invention prototypes we built were critical to our success in ultimately licensing the product to a multi-billion dollar NYSE company.

Invention prototypes are crucial because they go a long way toward proving your concept to potential investors, customers and suppliers – and to yourself. Many experts agree. “The whole reason to do a prototype is that it can help you accomplish a lot without your having to invest too much in the product idea or commit to it early on,” says Bob Cannon, chief executive officer of Cannon Advantage, a management consultant in Burton, Ohio, who specializes in bringing inventions to market.

Build an invention prototype at the right time

Make sure you’re thinking about a prototype all along and that you put one together, even if it’s a crude one, earlier than you think rather than too late. That means constructing an invention prototype long before you buy tooling to build your product or seek a contract manufacturer.

You may actually want to construct a prototype even before you get too fancy with computer drawings. “You can burn up a lot of money on engineering drawings when maybe what you really need first is a chunk of papier mache that shows what you’re trying to do,” says Andrew Nolan, a long-time industrial designer who helps entrepreneurs prove their concepts as a side business. “Then go back and do the [computer-aided] drawings.”

And in trying to assess the right time for a prototype as it relates to your patent, don’t fret. You don’t need to possess a working prototype in order to file for or be issued a patent. You just have to be able to prove that you could create a product that works as you’ve described.

The right invention prototype for the right audience

“The biggest problem I see is that folks tend to show prototypes to their mothers, cousins, aunts and uncles – and get positive feedback from them – and then go off on a tangent with their product without knowing whether they’ll have commercial success or not,” says Cannon. “You need to have someone whose opinion matters look at your prototype and say it’s promising.”

An invention prototype needs to be aimed at the right audience to do its job. That means tailoring it to fit the requirements and withstand the critiques of any combination of potential investors, partners, customers, suppliers and/or investors – not only the casual appraisals of friends and family.

The more operable and the slicker-looking your prototype, the better, but don’t get too carried away. After all, an invention prototype isn’t a production piece, and no one expects it to be. Keep this project inexpensive; there are plenty of other places for you to spend your startup capital! 

Consider making more than one prototype

If it isn’t too difficult or expensive, be prepared to make multiple versions of the invention prototype along the way — your design is probably going to evolve and improve as you develop it and you’ll want to have enough money to prototype the latest and greatest generation.

Another form of this approach is to make one prototype for “show” and another for “go.” In other words, you could make one prototype that looks like a finished product and another that demonstrates the functionality.

For the Battery Buddy, we had a “works-like” and a “looks-like” prototype. For the first one, we just bought a plastic gray box at Radio Shack and bolted wires, computer chips and switch plates inside according to our scheme for the product. It was about four times larger than the Battery Buddy that actually reached retail – and it was just plain ugly – but this prototype achieved what we invented our product to do: shut off a draining car battery while retaining enough power in the battery to start the car.

On the other hand, we carefully created our “looks-like” invention prototype at the woodworking shop at the University of Michigan, fashioning a box to the exact exterior dimensions of our engineering drawings. We painted it with fine, fancy graphics. And then we were able to show partners and customers that our Battery Buddy – or more accurately, an exact look-alike of it – would fit on more than 90% of the vehicles on the market.

Our Bottom Line

Invention prototypes are crucial for selling your product idea to potential investors, customers and others. You can put one together inexpensively as long as you have a well thought out strategy and purpose for the finished prototype.

Total
0
Shares
Previous Article

Small business loans grubstake entrepreneurs

Next Article

Commencement message made to order for small business owners

Related Posts
personal finances
Read More

Managing Personal Finances When Starting a Business

As an entrepreneur, you know saving money is crucial. It can be tempting to throw all of your money into your newest venture, but doing so can risk heavy losses if it doesn’t take off. Even if your startup becomes an international success, you should still be keeping an eye on your funds. Managing your...
home-based businesses
Read More

The Value of Home-Based Businesses to Economic Recovery

The challenge of America’s economic recovery, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, is to spread it to every community – and especially those that have been historically excluded. The key to meeting that challenge is to appreciate the civic and economic value of an overlooked resource: home-based businesses. There are about 16 million home-based...
Read More

WJR Business Beat: Job Switchers Rewarded with Higher Pay (Episode 406)

On today's Business Beat, Jeff Sloan talks about how it's going to be more difficult and costly for small businesses to hire the best talent because job switchers during the pandemic have seen significant salary hikes. Tune in to today's Business Beat for more:   Tune in to News/Talk 760 AM WJR weekday mornings at...
startup team
Read More

5 Strategies for Building a Great Startup Team

The way you treat your employees, their time, skills and abilities in the early phases of your union as a team influences the rest of your company's course of action. Mark Zuckerberg once said, "The most important thing for you as an entrepreneur trying to build something is, you need to build a really good...