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Before you take the “leap” into the early stages of product development, you first must decide if you have a viable product idea that is worth pursuing. There is quite a difference between coming up with a fantastic product idea and then coming up with a product idea that is completely unique and solves a universal problem while simultaneously igniting a passion within you.
If you have been mulling over a product idea, but are still on the fence as to whether it is commercially viable—here are four points for you to consider.
Chances are that if you came up with this product idea to solve a problem that you regularly face, others out there are dealing with the same issue. Finding and developing a solution to a common or universal problem is how most great inventions came to be.
Action: Take a minute to write down the problem that your product will be solving and how it would make life easier for its users. You can even start to casually ask family and friends if this is a problem they have experienced. You don’t have to go into details talking about your potential product yet, if you want to keep it in stealth mode, but you can get a feel to see if others are having this same reoccurring issue and would appreciate (and purchase) a solution.
Narrowing down a target market is one of your first tasks. If your product focuses on fixing a technological issue, perhaps your target market is geared toward a younger tech-savvy crowd. Likewise, if your product solves an issue for a specific industry (i.e. automotive, financial services, restaurants, etc.) you are going to want to make sure that it is easily integrated into daily operations.
Action: Compile a list of potential customers. Focus on age range, education, location, skill set and start to narrow your target market focus. Once you have this list, take a moment to think of the ways in which you can reach this segment of the population.
Brand new products are great—they are exciting and intriguing. Brand new products also come with a requirement—you must educate your audience and customer base first about the problem and your solution before they make a purchasing decision. While it is an additional step, it is nothing that can’t be overcome.
If there are already similar products on the market to your product idea, how are you going to make your product shine? What features will set yours apart? What does your pricing strategy look like in comparison?
Action: Do your research and get a comprehensive view of the industry landscape as well as potential competitors.
Products aren’t developed and launched overnight—though it may seem like that at times from an outsider’s perspective. Often though, weeks and months go into development. Many entrepreneurs are carried through the product development cycle by their passion—they have a strong passion and obsession with their product and know that it can make a difference.
Action: Ask yourself if you have the time to dedicate to developing this idea. Will you need help? If so, what type of help?
Have additional questions about product development? We are happy to help! Send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
March is Women’s History Month—a time to celebrate the achievements of women and acknowledge the ways in which many have changed modern life through invention.
“The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” -Grace Hopper
Before the 1970’s, the topic of women in history was largely missing from general public consciousness. To address this situation, the Education Task Force on the Status of Women initiated a “Women’s History Week” celebration in 1978 and chose the week of March 8 to coincide with International Women’s Day. In 1987, the National Women’s History Project petitioned Congress to expand the celebration to the entire month of March.
Since then, the National Women’s History Month Resolution has been approved every year with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. (Source: ThoughtCo)
Women have been at the forefront of invention for centuries. Their ideas, and subsequent inventions, have shaped the modern world as we know it. While there are countless women to celebrate, we discuss four women below that have made great strides in engineering.
The First Woman to File an American Patent. In 1809, Mary Dixon Kies received the first U. S. patent issued to a woman. Kies, a Connecticut native, invented a process for weaving straw with silk or thread. First Lady Dolley Madison praised her for boosting the nation’s hat industry. Unfortunately, the patent file was destroyed in the great Patent Office fire in 1836. Until about 1840, only 20 other patents were issued to women. The inventions related to apparel, tools, cook stoves, and fireplaces. (Source: ThoughtCo)
Inventor of the Paper Bag. Margaret Knight was an exceptionally prolific inventor in the late 19th century; journalists occasionally compared her to her better-known male contemporary Thomas Edison by nicknaming her “the lady Edison” or “a woman Edison.”
After seeing a fellow worker injured by a faulty piece of equipment, Knight came up with her first invention: a safety device for textile looms. She was awarded her first patent in 1871, for a machine that cut, folded and glued flat-bottomed paper shopping bags, thus eliminating the need for workers to assemble them slowly by hand. This machine and method is still in use today. Knight received 27 patents in her lifetime. (Source: Biography)
Inventor of Transparent Glass. Katherine Blodgett (1898-1979) was a woman of many firsts. She was the first female scientist hired by General Electric’s Research Laboratory in Schenectady, New York (1917) as well as the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in Physics from Cambridge University (1926). Blodgett’s research on monomolecular coatings led her to a revolutionary discovery.
She discovered a way to apply the coatings layer by layer to glass and metal. The thin films, which naturally reduced glare on reflective surfaces, when layered to a certain thickness, would completely cancel out the reflection from the surface underneath. This resulted in the world’s first 100% transparent or invisible glass. Blodgett’s patented film and process (1938) has been used for many purposes including limiting distortion in eyeglasses, microscopes, telescopes, camera and projector lenses. (Source: Biography)
Computer Science Pioneer. Grace Hopper (1906-1992) was one of the first programmers to transform large digital computers from oversized calculators into relatively intelligent machines capable of understanding “human” instructions. Hopper developed a common language with which computers could communicate called Common Business-Oriented Language or COBOL, now the most widely used computer business language in the world.
In addition to many other firsts, Hopper was the first woman to graduate from Yale University with a Ph.D. in Mathematics, and in 1985, was the first woman ever to reach the rank of admiral in the US Navy. Hopper’s work was never patented; her contributions were made before computer software technology was even considered a “patentable” field. (Source: Biography)
We encourage you to share the stories of these women along with other notable women inventors with your students, colleagues, children and classmates. By acknowledging and celebrating the women innovators of the past, we encourage the women innovators of the future.
Other women inventors that have made an impact are: Stephanie Kwolek (inventor of Kevlar), Melitta Bentz (inventor of the coffeemaker), Ann Moore (inventor of the Snugli baby carrier) and Martha Coston (inventor of pyrotechnic flares).
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
The US Luge Team tapped 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) technology for the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Stratasys played a role in helping the US Luge Team go for gold by incorporating additive manufacturing into the sleds being used in this year’s games. However, this is not the first time that 3D printing technology has made an appearance at the Olympic Games.
From the Stratasys blog: “The US Luge Team quickly realized the immense potential for additive to gain a competitive advantage and worked with Stratasys engineers to develop an entirely new process for fabricating their composite sleds. In a matter of days, they were able to design, print, and test prototype sled designs, which would normally take weeks or months using their existing processes. This allowed the team to drastically reduce the design cycle, which in turn, allowed for continuous improvement to create the fastest sled possible.”
One of the main competitive advantages of additive manufacturing is its ability for customization. The team saw the value in this, and had sleds developed that fit each of their bodies. “The design freedom from additive manufacturing enabled the team to create customized sleds that were tailored to each athlete’s body, which in turn, drastically improved comfort, ergonomics and most importantly, final performance. It’s really exciting to see how this technology will push the limits of human endurance for Olympic athletes.”
3D printed apparel was in the spotlight during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. These apparel pieces were designed to be lightweight, reduce the amount of wasted energy given off by the athletes and enhance overall performance through custom designs. Examples of where 3D printing technology was used:
BMW also made a splash at the 2016 Rio Olympics with its ability to track Olympic swimmers in the pool. The renowned car company, stepped off the road a dove into the pool with its LED driven motion system.
“The LED trackers will attach to a swimmers’ wrists, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles and toes through a 3D printed mounting system. The stroke and kick motion received by the coaching staff is an incredibly valuable performance tool as the data will aid in breaking down specific limb and joint angles to optimize performance.” (Sport Techie)
During the 2012 Olympics in London, customized gear through 3D printing was just starting out.
“The British team was noted for wearing customized helmets, bespoke to each Olympic cyclist. Each of these helmets was based upon a 3D scan of the rider’s head and then 3D printed to verify that the fit of the final helmet would be perfect.” (Stratasys Blog)
Renowned swimming company, Speedo, used 3D printing to create goggles that have transparent parts and rubber-like parts printed in a single step. Optimizing design and streamlining the entire design process are just two of the major advantages of additive manufacturing.
As 3D printing technology continues to grow and advance, we expect to see athletes using it more and more to enhance performance and gain a competitive advantage.
3D Innovations is a Product Development Company – from the 3D Design to a fully functional 3D Prototype & Product.
Hardware startups have many moving parts and are exponentially harder to launch than a typical software startup. Between product prototyping, testing, material selection, manufacturing and quality control (just to name a few), many days it seems like there just isn’t enough time to get it all figured out. There is a lot of time and energy that goes into launching a product before it hits store shelves.
Below are three things all successful hardware startup founders learned:
Hardware startups are built on a product vision. Create a product that not only meets customer expectations, but instead exceeds all expectations.
Far too often, we see companies that over promise and under deliver—leaving a wake of frustrated customers behind them. This is a sure-fire way to fail. If you are promising your customers a certain type of product, that should be what you deliver to them.
You cannot overemphasize that customers are key.
…Then focus on the needs of your target market. Take care of your customers.
In today’s social media focused world, a hardware startup can find themselves at the center of a major customer backlash with one misstep. People like to share their experiences with companies (both the good and bad)—bad policies, practices and products can be broadcast around the world in seconds. Avoid this headache by listening to your customers, understanding their needs and acknowledging their product improvement suggestions.
Entrepreneurs must wear many hats in the early days for budgeting purposes—bootstrapping is often seen as a rite of passage for hardware startup founders. The problem occurs when founders try to take on too many tasks they are unqualified for. If you have excellent sales skills, then focus your energy on that area and leave the product design aspect to your engineer. Building a skilled team around your strengths and weaknesses is the essence of true leadership.
“Great leadership entrusts and believes in a collective, skilled team to produce a better product. Poor leaders succumb to ego and attempt to run all facets of the development and release of a product. The results are typically lackluster and not optimal.” (Startup Nation)
Intellectual property (IP) protection is an important consideration for any startup, and possibly even more so for hardware startups. Technology and globalization have made it even easier for companies to copy a product or steal an idea altogether.
Patents are a way to not only protect an idea, but to also minimize competition and act as a defense mechanism against infringement claims from others. Having a strong intellectual property strategy or having the patent process started, is a great way to attract or solidify partnerships and funding.
Below are four considerations for your startup’s intellectual property strategy.
Patent rules are strict and adhere to a tight timeline, so it is best to file for patent protection early-on in the development cycle. A provisional patent application is a good “first step” for hardware startups. A provisional application provides the means to establish an early effective filing date in a later filed nonprovisional patent application. It also allows the term “Patent Pending” to be applied in connection with the description of the invention.
It is important to note that a “provisional application for patent has a pendency lasting 12 months from the date the provisional application is filed. The 12-month pendency period cannot be extended. Therefore, an applicant who files a provisional application must file a corresponding nonprovisional application for patent (nonprovisional application) during the 12-month pendency period of the provisional application in order to benefit from the earlier filing of the provisional application (United States Patent and Trademark Office -USPTO).” Once you file a provisional application the countdown clock starts ticking and your next move must be decided within the 12-month period.
In this early period, it is also best to keep quiet about your invention. You want to avoid publicizing your invention. This does not mean that you cannot meet with potential partners or product development firms, but instead that you don’t want to share your idea online or start a crowdfunding campaign just yet.
Many times the invention that you first envisioned, completely transforms during the product development process. This means that your initial patent or patent application may not cover new features that have been added on. This will leave your final product under-protected or not protected at all.
If the product is evolving quickly, consider filing a provisional patent application or a series of provisional patent applications within a year before filing a utility patent application.
While utility patents make up 90% of patents issued, design patents have been steadily on the rise because inventors are realizing that the exterior design and overall aesthetics of the invention can easily be replicated as well. Protecting both the design and functionality of an invention is necessary for long-term success.
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), “design patents may be granted to anyone who invents a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture”. In short, this means that design patents cover exactly what is shown in the drawings, nothing more.
Like a utility patent, a design patent also lets you use the phrases patent pending and patent issued on all business-related material. Once you have been granted a design patent, you are then able to secure rights for the next fourteen years. Another important thing to keep in mind is that design patents are relatively cheap to file and maintain, as compared to a utility patent.
A design patent, coupled with a utility patent, offers a range of IP protection on both the inner workings and exterior design of your product.
Patent protection is only one part of your IP strategy. A registered trademark will help protect your brand as well. A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from another—think along the lines of logo and tagline. A recognizable trademark can be extremely valuable for distinguishing your business from the competition.
Depending on the exact nature of your startup, a licensing agreement, copyright and/or trade secret protection could also be considered during your intellectual property planning and overall strategy. Speaking to a Patent Attorney early-on will let you discuss your options, weigh the benefits and build a custom strategy for your startup.
Failure is hard and certainly no one goes into building a startup thinking that they are going to fail—however, it happens. While failing is in no way enjoyable, that doesn’t mean that it does not have its benefits—in terms of learning what not to do. We can all learn from failure, we can even learn from other startup’s failures. Below are four areas where hardware startups have faltered. Making yourself aware of the challenges associated with each of these areas, you are more likely to make educated decisions that (hopefully) allow you to avoid failure altogether.
Entrepreneurs are designers at heart—they want to design a product, methodology or experience for their target market. They have a brilliant idea and want to introduce it into the marketplace. Design failure can arise rather quickly if the startup founder is not willing to modify their original design idea to meet the needs of customers or manufacturing.
If your customers are asking for your product to function a certain way, feel a particular way or look a specific way, you are going to want to modify your design. At the end of the day, you want people to both purchase and enjoy your product.
When you are working towards commercialization of a product, the goal is to be efficient, minimize costs and get your product onto store shelves quickly—DFM (Design for Manufacturability) works to do just this. With DFM you work out any potential issues before manufacturing planning which saves both time and resources. If you fail to design your product with manufacturing in mind, you are making your startup extremely vulnerable to hefty manufacturing costs and even the potential that it is not able to be manufactured at all.
Plenty of hardware startup founders refuse to let anyone see their product until it’s time to launch. Many are afraid that someone will steal their idea, that potential customers won’t like it until it’s perfect, or they want to get a big head start against the competition. Whatever the reason, failure to get feedback is often fatal for a startup.
Feedback is critical during product development. You aren’t going to know if you are on the right track without feedback from your target market. You are going to want people in your target market to test your product (not just family and friends). It is helpful to get feedback that is both honest and actionable. By creating an inexpensive prototype, and gathering feedback from it, you will be in a much better position as you build your product. This feedback loop is important until the final design is ready.
It doesn’t help your startup if you have a beautiful product that works flawlessly if the market for it just isn’t there. For example, if you are positioning an electronic gadget for the 65+ year old crowd you are going to have a hard sell if they are not well versed in the latest technology trends, or if you are targeting the 18-25 year old crowd with a gadget that is overly cumbersome you are going to face an uphill battle. The solution to this is to find out what appeals to the target market you are aiming to capture and design/modify your product to grab and hold their attention.
This list would not be complete without the mention of funding. Funding is the primary stumbling block for a majority of startups. Developing, manufacturing and launching a product takes time and money. Whether you are turning to crowdfunding or looking for investors, you are bound to face a hurdle or two.
If your goal is to raise capital from investors, be prepared for rejection (a number of times) before you succeed. The process almost always takes longer than you think it will, so start early in your quest to find an investor.
If crowdfunding is your plan, be sure that you show up with a nearly flawless campaign. Your video, content and prototype need to be ready to go. Your goal is to show potential investors that you have a plan laid out, it is well researched and that you are ready.
Starting a hardware company comes with a unique set of challenges. If you can navigate these four common roadblocks, you will be in a much better position for a successful product launch.
Less than ten years ago, the hype surround 3D printing technology was at an all-time high. The idea of each household having one led the news cycle. In hindsight, it is clear that this level of hype and the fever-pitch level of excitement was not sustainable or even realistic. There were far too many barriers for the technology to overcome, both technological and usability, before it could be in “everyone’s house”.
Over time the hype slowly diminished, and the technology began to steadily mature. Firms focused on 3D printing began to collaborate, merge and narrow their focus. Today, the future of the technology looks considerably different than it once did. Below are three areas of growth for 3D printing technology and a sign of where the technology is heading.
3D printing is making its way onto the manufacturing floor. A recent survey from Jabil, found that “81% of manufacturers are using 3D printing technology today”. It seems that additive manufacturing has found its niche in mainstream manufacturing.
The fact that 3D printing has become so prominent with manufacturers, shows that companies are looking for ways to incorporate this technology into their product designs. Companies are no longer standing on the sidelines waiting to see how the technology matures, but are instead harnessing its design benefits and finding ways to use it themselves.
Where once the only material available was plastic, today there is an ever-increasing range of materials to choose from. The most prominent is still plastic (PLA, ABS, PET, PVA, Nylon) however, metals (steel, gold, silver, titanium), ceramic, and wood options are also quickly coming to market.
New and improved metal 3D printing will make a splash this year. “Metal 3D printing will become more and more of a necessity when solving specific manufacturing challenges and creating customized, complex end-use products.” (Engineering.com) We expect to see the range of materials available to continue to grow as the technology continues to advance.
Companies, such as GE, are making great strides in advancing 3D printing and its ability to produce end-use products. However, before 3D printing can really take off in terms of end-use production, there are some major barriers that need to be addressed. “Material properties, high costs, complexity, time to a usable part and location of a production-capable machine relegated to an additive manufacturing lab are significant barriers to the use of additive manufacturing in production.” (3D Printing Industry)
Products produced for consumers with 3D printing will be required to meet the same material properties (strength, surface finish, color) that traditional manufacturing has mastered. While it is most likely that end-use production won’t come to fruition in 2018, we can expect to see more companies finding ways of making this happen with one-off parts.
It is clear that additive manufacturing is here to stay. As it is now, this technology continues to excel with its prototyping capabilities and is a great compliment to traditional manufacturing.
Below we discuss four common design challenges facing hardware startups today. It doesn’t matter what industry you are going into or if you are a first-time entrepreneur or serial entrepreneur, you are bound to encounter one or more of these challenges along the way. By understanding what lays ahead as you start your product development journey, you will be better equipped to successfully navigate it.
The marketplace today is vastly different than it was ten years ago. Consumers today not only want originality and authenticity in the products they purchase, they demand it. However, the thing about originality is that it’s hard. The rise of counterfeit goods, shows just how hard it can be to not only come up with an original business idea, but execute it correctly.
Hardware startups today are relying more and more on the experience and knowledge of their product designers to develop a product that is both externally and internally unique, completely original and visually appealing—so that it outshines the competition and stands out in the marketplace.
It is no secret that the one-size-fits-all approach to product design is losing its luster. Take the Futurecraft 4D shoe from Adidas for example. Adidas is known for its top-of-the-line athletic gear, and have shown that they understand that innovation is necessary with their recently unveiled 3D printed shoe. “3D printing allows the shoe company to unlock performance-enhancing design modifications that would have been impossible with other materials like foam.” (TechCrunch) By incorporating this cutting-edge technology into their design and manufacturing process, Adidas is introducing a truly unique and customizable running shoe into the marketplace.
Consumers care about design—hardware startups need to focus in on their product’s physical form, properties and materials. As technology advances, products are becoming slimmer, more light weight and exceptionally durable—in turn, consumers are expecting these characteristics from the products they purchase, not just electronics anymore.
Along with advancing technology, material selection is also advancing. The material expansion with 3D printing alone is ever increasing, today you can expect to see a variety of plastics available for your design (PLA, ABS, PET, PVA, Nylon) however, metals (steel, gold, silver, titanium), ceramic, and wood options are also quickly coming to market.
As a startup your main goal is to design, manufacture and launch a product as quickly as possible to turn a profit. However, the vast technological advancements that help throughout the development process, can also be a double-edged sword. You must also design your product with future technologies in mind.
For example, the recent introduction of the Internet of Things (IoT), has created a vast network of interconnected consumer products that work and communicate with one another. Entrepreneurs that incorporate this type of technological foresight into their product design will no doubt have a clear advantage over those who disregard it and look at it as if it’s a passing fad.
It can be a challenging enough for well-known companies to create buzz over a new product. For a hardware startup navigating a new industry, these challenges increase exponentially. Not only are you creating awareness around your product, but your company and brand as well.
The internet is a great place to start working on this buzz. Between your website design, social media, partnerships, and customer engagement, it is possible to grab the attention of your target market. More and more entrepreneurs are turning to creative mediums, such as podcasts, videos and interactive websites, to build their brand and launch their startup.
While launching a hardware startup can be intimidating, it is not impossible. Knowing and understanding the challenges facing startups, allows you to have a better idea of what to expect and plan accordingly.
First-time entrepreneurs, and even seasoned entrepreneurs, have questions when it comes to protecting their intellectual property (IP) and moving forward with manufacturing. No two products are alike; therefore, a custom-tailored strategy is necessary when it comes to navigating these two areas of product development.
On the IP side, a decision must be made about what type of patent (design patent or utility patent) makes sense for the invention and budget. On the manufacturing side, everything about the design, even the smallest details, must be accounted for when selecting materials and where to manufacture the product. Having insight and answers early-on in the startup journey helps entrepreneurs understand the full spectrum of what it takes to bring a product to market.
Below we delve into the top three questions we frequently receive related to IP and manufacturing.
You don’t necessarily need a patent to start the design phase of product development. Often, the design phase is done in parallel with the patent creation process and filing.
Drawings from the design are included as part of the patent application and can be used as attachments to your application. It is recommended to at least file for a Provisional Patent prior to disclosing any information about the product such as designs, prototypes, and specifications to outside parties. You will also want to have your patent in the Patent Pending stage before moving forward with any manufacturing or marketing initiatives.
Ideas are a “dime a dozen”, but the real intellectual property (IP) is what gets developed, not the idea itself. Developing the functional aspect of the idea is the difficult part. All information is kept confidential and disclosed strictly on a need-to-know basis with the client’s approval.
Before entering the production manufacturing phase, several things will be conducted to determine the most cost effective and price friendly option. Material, surface finish, quantity, and post processing are factors in deciding the appropriate process for production manufacturing.
*This is the second piece in a two-part series, view part one here, FAQ: The Basics of Product Development.
We are happy to answer any additional product development questions you have, please email us at email@example.com
Are you ready to launch a startup in 2018? As the year begins to wind down, many people use this time to assess current goals and make new goals for the year ahead. A new year is often looked at as a fresh start or a new beginning—a time to make a change and forge a new path.
If you are considering developing a product or launching a hardware startup in the new year, we have a few pieces of advice to help you gear up for this adventure and to get you started in the right direction.
Grab a computer and start typing. Write everything down that has to do with your product idea. What it looks like, how it will function, its size, who will use it—all of this needs to be down on paper so that you can review every detail about the innovative idea swirling around in your head.
We suggest that you draft a business plan, however don’t get bogged down by it. Business plans can be high level, and just a couple of pages at this point. A business plan is a great way to take all of the details you have written down, and organize them. A simple internet search for a business plan template can help get you started. With your ideas organized and in one place, you can then begin the process of listing “action items” and getting to work on them.
In the very early stages, a homemade prototype may suffice. Depending on your product idea, you might be able to find the items you need to build a rough version at your local home improvement store. As you build upon your idea and start to assess your target market, you will need to work on a functional prototype.
A functional prototype will allow you to refine your design, gather market feedback, rally financial support (if you are looking for VC or crowdfunding investments) and file a patent.
Many people envision entrepreneurs as “lone wolves”, however this could not be further from the truth. No one person has the skill sets necessary to build a startup completely alone from start to finish—the key is to find quality partners. You might decide to bring partners on full-time or to consult with outside agencies (product development, intellectual property, legal matters, to name a few).
Often, entrepreneurs think that they need to have a firm idea in place before setting up a time to meet with a product development firm, this is not the case. Many times, a product development firm will be able to help you refine your idea and provide suggestions on maximizing the design. A product development firm has extensive experience in both design and manufacturing, so meeting them early-on is advantageous.
The new year is a time to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. If you still find yourself on the fence about developing that product idea, ask yourself this one simple question, Why not?
Have additional product development questions? Please e-mail them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org