Having a good idea and knowing what to do with it are two very different things. We have all had an idea about how improve a thing, or to change the way a particular task is completed. Although a key part of creating a solution is one of the more straight forward part of the process. For an idea to be impactful it not only has to have a useful function, it also must be available to the person who needs it when they need it.
Creating value in a business is often as much about the structures in which the core idea is housed as the idea it self. If a solution is not transferable from one situation to the next; useful to this customer and the next then it is more of a ‘fix’ for a particular time and place rather than a potential product.
This weeks Office Hours was about just this. A researcher has discovered a particular way of transforming power that could be used in electronic devices. It a technical context, the idea is based on phenomenon that is well known, at least in the relevant community. Nonetheless, today’s presenter has found a way to arrange the components in such a way as to improve performance and make it useful in many situations. Or at least that is the assumption.
The challenge as presented was how to take the idea from just that, to a product. He recognises that a prudent first step was to protect the IP so a patent application is underway. (as a side note, in Office Hours, we are careful to avoid making disclosures about the particulars of any innovation. We accept that it is and move on to the ramifications). The core idea was developed in a University context but the idea is the presenter’s. He said there might be budget available to explore further in the University but not as a core project.
Initial questions established that the technical development was early, not just an idea but also not fully demonstrated as a device. Where there any unusual requirements in terms of materials and manufacture. The answer was that a functional prototype was achievable in a year or so and appropriate facilities were available via several available partners.
The Group quickly moved to marketplace questions. Was this something that a consumer would use or is it a component in another product; a “B2B play.” Where did it fit in a product? Was it a critical component that replaced an existing one or was it an enhancement? Although it was becoming obvious that this was a Had any particular niche applications or products been identified that would visibly benefit from the new device?
The Group was establishing where along several paths the entrepreneur was. On a technical axis things seemed well in hand. There was a clear path to a demonstrator device, a path through and around development were covered. From a functional perspective, where in customers’ designs the resulting device might fit was clear; it could replace and make much more efficient power delivery in many existing products and designs.
In the recommendations portion of the hour it became clear that the overriding need was to understand the potential demand for this product. There were several recommendations about the IP strategy. As a likely sale of the product, or indeed the company it self, would be to much larger players with manufacturing in geographies worldwide IP protection in those jurisdictions would be important. Understand the cost implications of the patent strategy, it can become very expensive as it matures into the ‘international phase.’
Several participants voiced the need to understand the market and where this product would fit into what is already a very established marketplace. When a potential customer reads the specification sheet for this product along side the ones already on the market what would stand out as advantages and limitations? Find early customers with particular example applications who can act as advocates for the product with other customers. Document the product development cycle of the potential customers to find when and who to contact about the new product being incorporated in designs.
It was also suggested that some thought be given to the longer term business model of the company. Will it be manufacturing devices or licencing designs?
The presenter took onboard the feedback and recommendations committing to;
- Clearly identify the product’s potential specifications and specific customers who could benefit from its features.
- Create a road map to a minimal viable product/demonstrator to exemplify the core benefits
- Continue the IP protection and investigate where protection should be sought.
- Identify potential customers, their production volumes and product life cycles to estimate the potential market for the new device.