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From Idea to Market So you have a genius idea. Here's what it takes to get a new product to market.

By Julie Bennett

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

On one side of the hall at this year's National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, a first-time inventor was displaying a handsome menu folder that subtly lights up, letting diners read what's on order without destroying the dark-and-moody ambience. On the other side of the hall, another first-time inventor was proudly showing a check folder that, yes, lights up when diners are ready to pay the bill.

Two similar new products hitting the market at the same time--but what it took to get them there could not be more different. The menu folder's creator, Gillian Dinnerstein, of Miami Beach, Fla., spent four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring engineers and manufacturers. Celestina Pugliese, of Melville, N.Y., needed just seven months and $11,800 to get her light-up check presenter to the show floor.

Part of the difference was complexity, but most of it came down to Pugliese using a network of new internet sites that lets you bring a hazy idea to reality for a fraction of the price, from hiring patent attorneys to linking up with manufacturers. The bad economy has driven thousands of these professionals to troll the web for work, which means if you have a bright idea, this is an ideal time to try to turn it into reality.

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