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Company: The DaVinci Institute, a nonprofit futurist think tank in Louisville, Colorado
How It Helps: It conducts the annual Colorado Inventor Showcase, where inventors display new products to attendees, who include venture capitalists, investment bankers, media, and corporate executives. The showcase is open to anyone; even prospective inventors can attend to see what's on the cutting edge, says executive director Thomas Frey. The Institute also conducts monthly networking and educational events, such as Inventor Bootcamps.
Cost: $200 to $400 to exhibit at the showcase; $39 to $49 to attend; $79 to $99 for the Inventor Bootcamp
Next Step: Visit davinciinstitute.com.
Company: Innovative Design Engineering Animation, a product development and animation consulting company in San Francisco
How It Helps: With 90 engineers and designers on staff, IDEA helps inventors conceptualize product designs at every stage, whether you have a few sketches or a working prototype. "We help inventors pick the right materials, manufacturing process, ergonomics, user friendliness, etc.," says CEO Ajay Gupta. "We bring it to life completely."
Cost: Varies depending on complexity (starts at about $15,000). Financing deals, such as a stake in the patent, are sometimes available.
Next Step: Visit ideaproductdesign.com or call (866) 480-IDEA.
Company: NineSigma Inc., Cleveland-based operators of an online marketplace for technology buyers
How It Helps: NineSigma contracts with clients who need new product ideas, concepts, technologies and solutions to specific problems. It then posts the problems on its online marketplace, where inventors can propose their ideas. "Basically, [the inventors] send back a two-page outline of who they are, what they do and their relevance to the problem," says president and CEO Paul Stiros. At that stage, no confidential IP information is passed on--but if it's useful to the clients, a deal can be made directly between the inventors and the companies.
Cost: Nothing for inventors; the clients pay to use the service.
Next Step: Visit ninesigma.com.