When Jason Clute, 42, came up with his big idea in 1992-a device for propping up a sleeping baby-he never imagined the product would one day hit the shelves of Toys "R" Us and Wal-Mart. "I was making the product for my friends," he says. "I thought it would end at that, but they all encouraged me to try to put the 'Prop-A-Bye Baby' on the market."
Still undecided on what to do, Clute found his answer when a friend mentioned the Wal-Mart Innovation Network (WIN), which evaluates new ideas. "I wasn't sure what to do," he says. "But when I heard the evaluation was only $150, I said " 'What the heck, I'm going to give it a try.' " After all, my friends were all telling me I had a great idea." So Clute submitted the invention-and learned the idea ranked in the top 15 percent of all ideas submitted. It turned out to be all the encouragement Clute needed: In 1992, he launched DEX Products and introduced the Prop-A-Bye Baby. Clute sold $3 million worth of products last year, and today, DEX Products has annual sales of $20 million.
Don Debelak is a new-business marketing consultant and the author of Bringing Your Product to Market (John Wiley & Sons). Send him your invention questions at firstname.lastname@example.org