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Be the Brains of the Operation

Get your mind in gear, and start brainstorming with tips and tricks from an idea expert.

You know you want to start a business, but you're not sure what kind. You're looking for inspiration, but you don't know how to get started. Luckily, we went to brainstorming expert Ron Blum to help you set the stage for your dazzling business idea.

Ideas can come from anywhere at any time, says Blum, founder of The Egg Factory LLC, an innovation company in Roanoke, Virginia, that comes up with ideas and inventions that are then sold and licensed to other companies. Still, there are a few ways to improve your ability to conjure up brilliant concepts of your very own. "Come up with transformational innovation--taking processes from one industry to solve problems in another industry," says Blum. For instance, he cites a case where the same technology NASA employs for sticky-type floor mats used before entering clean rooms was modified and applied to the household market as space-age welcome mats that would keep your house cleaner.

He also suggests that you open your mind to solving the problems affecting specific market segments. For instance, more than 90 million baby boomers are expected to suffer from presbyopia (a visual blurring of close objects) by 2014. This statistic could inspire products and services designed to help this group.

To really ignite the creative spark, brainstorm with friends, employees, family members and mentors--people who bring a varied array of talents and opinions to the table. In Blum's experience, he notes that teams with an engineer, an MBA, a liberal arts major and an industrial designer will spawn lots of creativity. "I'm convinced that most people, if given the right environment and mentored properly, can invent," says Blum.

Blum also motivates college students with his company's Yearly Innovation Challenge, a program that helps students create new ideas, win cash prizes and earn some profits if their ideas end up being used. Since young minds are often untainted by the "it can't be done" mentality, he suggests entrepreneurs try to return to that state of freedom within themselves--no matter what their ages. Tear down your mental walls during brainstorming sessions, and allow yourself to think, What if? "Come up with an idea, even if you don't know if it's practical or not or if it can scientifically be pulled off," Blum says. "[Then you] take the mud off it--the idea may not be right, but it'll start a thought process."

This story appears in the June 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »