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5 Tips for Creating a Prototype A prototype is often the only way to know if your idea will fly, and if your startup is ready to launch.

By Paula Andruss

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Ready to test your idea's real-world functionality and appeal? Creating a prototype is a must. Mark T. Reyland, a serial entrepreneur and executive director of the United Inventors Association of America (UIA), offers up some tips on working with a manufacturer to get your startup ready to launch.

What should a newbie entrepreneur do first?
Before you ever pick up the phone, make sure you know--and can explain--exactly what you want in as many specifics as possible. You also have to educate yourself on the process so you understand what the person on the other end of the phone is talking about. A virtual prototype is not the same as a prototype, but some manufacturers try to sell them as such. You need to know the terminology so you can be sure you're getting what you want.

Once you identify potential manufacturers, what should you ask them?
Ask for their portfolio to see what kind of work they've done and for whom they've done it. Make sure they have the experience and capability to do everything you need. A smoke alarm is not an overly complicated product, but it does have some complicated issues. You might find a prototyping shop that can easily do the outer case but doesn't know anything about electronics or how they interface with the case. You need someone with experience that covers everything. Also, look for someone with a design aesthetic that matches yours. You won't be happy with a futuristic designer if you're looking to design something around a retro brand.

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