Breadboards, Models, & Prototypes

Once you have taken the initial steps to protect your idea, the second step is to determine whether or not the invention will work. To do this you will need to first make a breadboard of the invention, then a model, and finally a prototype.

Jacquelyn Denalli, in her "Inventor's Circle" column for Business Start-Ups Magazine, offers the following definitions of a breadboard, model, and prototype:

* A breadboard is a rough construction of your invention that proves the idea works. The breadboard doesn't have to look good or even work well; it simply proves your idea can be reduced to practice. It may take several breadboards, each improving on the earlier one, before you are ready to build a model.

* A model is a representation of the product as it will be manufactured. The model demonstrates what your invention will do, but is not always a precise duplicate of the finished product. In building your model, consider these issues: the item's sale price, materials, manufacturing costs, marketing details, safety factors, how it will be sold and distributed, and the profit margin. If you plan to license your invention to a manufacturer, you can often do so with a model.

* A prototype is an exact replica of the product as it will be manufactured, down to the last detail, including color, graphics, packaging and instructions. To make a prototype or sample, the cost is usually much greater than the actual unit cost once the product is in full production. For example, a prototype might cost $500, though the item itself might retail for only $2 to $10 in the marketplace. But it's well worth the investment. First of all, you can make drawings or photographs of the sample to use in brochures, mailings, pamphlets, advertising, etc. You can also use the prototype to show to potential buyers, whether prospective manufacturers or buyers for department stores.

When you are ready to put together your prototype, get several bids from various manufacturing companies. Get prices for producing one, 1,000, and 5,000 units. Make sure the bid you get includes tooling costs and specifies the terms the manufacturer will provide. At the same time, make sure you know what the delivery turnaround time will be, so that you can speak authoritatively with buyers. This will help you determine what your initial pricing structure is going to have to be and what kinds of quality discounts will be available.

When the word "prototype" is mentioned, most people naturally assume that its purpose is to test the effectiveness of manufacturing or production methods. Although this is one motive for making a prototype, employing it in your marketing research is just as important to the ultimate success of your product. Nothing can replace the data obtained through the use of a prototype. Whether a product is as complex as a computer or as simple as a welding torch, market testing with a prototype will tell you how your potential buyers - and those are the folks who actually have to use what you sell - will react to your product.

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