Great ideas that end up on the scrap-heap

Written by: Tom Shelley | Published:

What turns a new idea into a marketable product with maximum speed and likelihood of success? Tom Shelley investigates

You can have the best idea in the world, but – if you have no clear idea of who you are going to sell it to or how – you are very unlikely to succeed.
And if you do have these two prerequisites in place, it is equally essential to follow the right path to turn it into a commercial product.
“If you ask Fred in the shed to develop it, it won’t get you to market. Fred is probably not even designing to standards and won’t be recognised by the FDA as a quality environment.” So says Lucy Malby-Hatcher, sales and marketing manager of Integrated Technologies of Ashford, Kent.
The company has been in business for more than 30 years, taking ideas and turning them into products, mainly in the instrumentation field, with many successful launches to its credit. According to Malby-Hatcher, key cost considerations for any great idea to become commercially viable embrace:
· Costs for real engineering and achieving regulatory compliance
· Cost of development in a quality environment
· Cost of starting a sales force
Then there are other factors, such as:
· Are you going to use distribution?
· Do you have the commercial wherewithal to know what market you are hitting?
· Does it really work?
· Do you have any money?
· What’s the market and your forecast for sales?
These are the questions that have to be addressed right at the start, she states, because they decide both the form the eventual product is going to take – simple or sophisticated, sensitive or rugged, cheap or high value – and whether any of sort of permutation will make it a commercial success.
One client who has clearly got it right is Hygiena International, which operates in the food hygiene monitoring business. It wanted a hand-held luminometer, which measures the chemiluminescent light produced by a reaction between a reagent and ATP, whose presence in any great amount is a strong indication of lack of hygiene.
“They were well funded and already had a sales organisation in Watford, but what they didn’t have was the engineering bit in the middle,” recalls Malby-Hatcher. “They came to us asking for a hand-held instrument that would read a light output with a high degree of sensitivity and we delivered this by looking at a very specific electronic design. What they wanted was a photomultiplier tube equivalent, but without using a photomultiplier, because they don’t travel. They own the intellectual property, even though we invented it. What our customers pay for, they get to keep. We now undertake volume manufacturing for them.”
More difficult is when there is a great idea, but no funding. “We then have to do a business plan – this is what we think you need to raise. They might apply for SEEDA funding or enterprise funding. If they do, then we need to pitch with them. They need to budget for development, manufacturing setup, achieving regulatory compliance, launch money, setting up a sales force or organising distributorships and making free instruments for people to try.”


* The inventor must plan and budget for how they are going to sell the proposed product right at the beginning, before starting any further development

* They should also find if anybody else has done anything else like it before. Google and Google patents make this easier than ever

* Market research as to whether the product really fulfils a market need is essential

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