You Want The Truth?

Winner Takes All

The WIN program stems from a cooperative effort between Wal-Mart, Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield and the Innovation Institute, a product evaluation consulting company, also in Springfield. According to Gerald Udell, director of the program "The program is open to any inventor with any type of product." Today, for $175, inventors can get their innovations evaluated by eight to 10 experts against more than 40 criteria. In 1999, WIN, which started in 1990, evaluated over 1,200 ideas in virtually every product category.

The program started as a public serv-ice for inventors. Wal-Mart want to give inventors the opportunity to get their products on its shelves, but didn't have the time to evaluate every single idea that came in. So Wal-Mart now refers inventors to the WIN program. Once products pass the initial screening (about 8 to 9 percent of all submissions do), Wal-Mart will consider striking a deal locally to purchase the product. That doesn't mean, however, that Wal-Mart wants every idea that passes the first evaluation. "I passed the first round, but Wal-Mart felt I wasn't ready," Clute remembers. "They worried I couldn't supply enough product to fill their needs. I was told to go out and get some customers and then come back-and then they'd re-evaluate their decision. I started selling the product to baby stores and finally received orders from Toys "R" Us. Then I went back to Wal-Mart, and they agreed to take on the product."

What exactly does the $175 fee cover? According to Udell, those who submit products will receive a report based on more than 40 criteria, such as start-up capital, whether the products are likely to get meaningful patents, and whether the products can be safely designed and manufactured for a reasonable cost. Each inventor also finds out how his or her products fared in the evaluation and get a book that details each evaluation criterion. The evaluation report is valuable because it not only states the worries the assessment team has, but also specifies any alternate channels the inventor should pursue. Here's a general breakdown of submissions: 22 percent are not recommended; 23 percent receive a "very limited and cautious" recommendation; 28 percent get the "limited and cautious" recommendation; 7 percent get recommended with reservations; 12 percent get recommended for channels other than Wal-Mart; and about 8 percent receive recommendations to Wal-Mart. Those lucky enough to win a positive recommendation earn access to a list of the 2,000 firms in the WIN.

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This article was originally published in the June 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: You Want The Truth?.

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