Ways Inventors Can Get Stuff Made

Maybe you don't want to give up the rights to your brilliant idea. We understand. Here are some options for inventors.
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This story appears in the August 2011 issue of . Subscribe »

If you can get the attention of a direct-response marketer like Telebrands, you're pretty much guaranteed to make millions. CEO and founder A.J. Khubani, the originator of the ubiquitous "As Seen on TV" logo, says the minimum five products they launch each year are always hits, and that 2011 will be a record-breaking sales year for the company, in the hundreds of millions. If you don't make the cut for Telebrands' new TV show--"a cross between American Idol and Shark Tank," here's what to do:

Process: Submit your idea to InventorsDay@Telebrands.com. If it's good enough, you'll be invited to give a five-minute pitch at an Inventors Day, which is held in various cities every six to eight weeks. "It's like a book deal," Khubani says. "We're the publisher, the inventor is the author. If we like your idea, we'll contact you." Royalties differ depending on patents, uniqueness and other variables. You keep the rights, but Telebrands licenses them until the contract expires.

Products: Telebrands test-markets dozens of products--items that solve everyday problems, retail between $10 and $20 and have a "wow" or "aha" reaction--and whittles it down to the five best. That takes a few months, and then it can take up to a year to ramp up manufacturing. Recent hit: the PedEgg, a "revolutionary" egg-shaped foot file, with more than 45 million units sold to date.

If you want to just DIY and keep all the intellectual property (and profits) for yourself, Alibaba is another way to go. With 65 million users in 240 countries, it's the world's largest e-commerce platform. And, according to Annie Xu, the general manager of Alibaba Americas, the company helps connect inventors with factories and manufacturers of every product imaginable, so you don't have to go abroad or deal with agents. "We put power in inventors' hands," she says. "Doing comparison shopping online and going through the research process gives them more knowledge of the supply chain so they can make the best decisions."

Process: Go to Alibaba.com to look for a manufacturer for your Big Idea. Generally, it involves sending out e-mails to potential suppliers, outlining what you want and sifting through replies from vendors. Pick your favorite, get a few samples, place an initial order--and repeat and expand as necessary.

Products: Alibaba has listings for manufacturers of almost anything. Xu says it takes an average of three or four months for inventors to source from a supplier on their own, but with Alibaba's database, it can take as little as a week. A few (of many) business success stories: CitySlips, those ballet flats that fit into a purse; Sole Bicycles, affordable fixie bikes popular with the hipster crowd; and Eat Cleaner, an all-natural food wash.

Fashion is one of the most accessible arenas for co-creation, and with Afingo, which launched its designer-factory matching service in June, it's easier than ever to get stuff made. Liza Deyrmenjian, co-founder and CEO, has a database of qualified vendors, so you don't need to hire an expensive consultant to make sure you don't get ripped off--or, alternatively, falsely accuse someone of charging you too much. "We're taking the guesswork out of the experience," she says.

Process: Think Alibaba's service, but specifically for the fashion industry, with more educational components. Pay $899 for three carefully curated factory matches by listing what you want to make, where you are located, how many units you plan to produce and your level of experience. More tools are being rolled out, including a cost calculator, a global manufacturing calendar and online support. You take it from there.

Products: There aren't any testimonials yet, but the idea is to digitize Deyrmenjian's expertise in helping designers with the technical aspects of production, including sourcing fabric and identifying a pattern maker and factory. Don't worry, her track record is good: She helped Rochelle Behrens, the designer of "The Shirt," which was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show. 

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