Image by: Zach Hoeken
By Alex Webb
According to a 2012 report by the National Women’s Business Council, women inventors were listed in 18% of all patents granted to inventors in the United States. That is double the number of patents granted to women in 1990. And almost 30% of those were listed to individuals that were not associated with private companies. This means that women are taking their place in inventing new products.
If you are a female inventor who wants to bring a product to market for your business or to start a new business, one of the first steps you should take is creating a prototype. This exciting step, which allows you to see your product come to life, is crucial for many reasons. If you think you can skip this step, let me show you why you shouldn’t.
#1) Make Sure Your Design Really Works
Primarily, your prototype will let you know if there are any fundamental flaws in your design. Just because it works well in theory does not mean that it will work well in practice. A prototype will allow you to test and refine the functionality of your design.
Start with even a rudimentary prototype. Make it out of your kid’s Legos if you have to, just for the chance to see it somewhere besides your imagination. This will allow you to observe any design flaws so that subsequent prototypes, which will likely cost you more money, will be more well-designed.
#2) Determine the Best Materials
Prototyping will allow you to test out different materials to determine which will be the best to use when you get to the production phase. Perhaps you envision your product as metal and rubber. But maybe plastic will work better and cost you less to produce. You won’t know unless you try it, so use your creativity and try as many alternatives as you can think of. Maybe none of them will work out, but perhaps something you haven’t thought of will work better.
Explore various materials. You can use anything you find around the house, at the hardware store, or even in the trash. Head to the craft store and pick up some Styrofoam, cardboard, glue, string–whatever you think will be useful.
For something a little more high tech, there are numerous molding materials to choose from…
- Hand-moldable plastics. Shapelock or Polymorph (which can be found on Amazon.com) are plastic products that you melt with hot water or a blow dryer, then mold by hand. When they cool again, they form a solid plastic that can be drilled.
- Sugru is a self-setting rubber that you can mold with your hands. It cures after a day to a waterproof, flexible, temperature-tolerant material.
- Clay such as Sculpey or Fimo can be bought at craft stores and used to make prototypes themselves or be used to create molds to cast other materials.
Working with metal is a little trickier. Unless you already have the materials and know-how to create metal parts, contact a local tool-and-die shop. You can find them online. Or try contacting the industrial design department at a local college. Sometimes they are willing to help inventors. Just make sure you obtain a confidentiality agreement before you contact anyone.
#3) Allow Other People to See Your Vision
Once complete, your prototype will help you describe your product more effectively to engineers, investors, and potential business partners. It will also help you patent the idea because you will be able to illustrate the specifics of your design better.
#4) Get Funded and Licensed
You will be presenting your idea to many people. Licensing companies and investors will take you much more seriously if they see that you’ve already taken steps to make your vision a reality. You will be seen as a professional, not just as a dreamer with some vague idea.
Your First Prototype
Your first prototype will not be perfect. It will be a very rough version of your final vision, but it will help you iron out the kinks, show you places you can make improvements or save money, and help you begin to turn your idea into a profitable product.
Before you begin marketing your prototype to companies, try to get your model as close to the final version as you can. Try to make it look nice and make sure joints and gears turn smoothly. It should operate exactly how you expect it to, every single time.
If you decide not to build your prototype yourself, you can use a professional prototype developer. It might be more expensive, but can be very helpful if your invention is particularly complicated. Again, make sure you complete a confidentiality agreement because you will be sharing every detail of your invention with them.