Prototypes are working models of entrepreneurial ideas for new products.
"A prototype is defined as an original model on which something is
patterned," wrote Richard C. Levy in
The Inventor's Desktop Companion.
"If you do not have the time, money, skills, or commitment to
build a prototype of your idea, the odds of your ever licensing it are
reduced to practically zero." An entrepreneur armed with a good
prototype, on the other hand, is able to show potential investors and
licensees how the proposed product will work without having to rely
exclusively on diagrams and his/her powers of description.
TYPES OF PROTOTYPES
There are three major types or stages of prototype creation, each of which
can be used by the enterprising entrepreneur in securing financing and/or
Breadboard—This is basically a working model of your idea,
intended to serve the basic function of showing how the product will
work, with less concern for aesthetics. "The breadboard
doesn't have to look good or even work well," stated
Jacquelyn Denalli in
"It simply proves your idea can be reduced to practice."
Tomima Edmark, writing in
added that a breadboard "is used in the early stages of product
development to demonstrate functionality and communicate your idea to
potential model makers or manufacturers so they can create a finished
product for sale."
Presentation Prototype—-This type of prototype is a
representation of the product as it will be manufactured. Often used for
promotional purposes, it should be able to demonstrate what the product
can do, but it is not necessarily an exact copy of the final product.
"In building your model," said Denalli, "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."
Pre-Production Prototype—This type of prototype is for all
practical purposes the final version of the product. It should be just
like the finished product in every way, from how it is manufactured to
its appearance, packaging, and instructions. This final-stage prototype
is typically expensive to produce—and far more expensive to make
than the actual unit cost once the product is in full
production—but the added cost is often well worth it. It is most
valuable because it enables inventors and producers to go over every
aspect of the product in fine detail, which can head off potential
trouble spots prior to product launch. In addition, Denalli pointed out
that "you can make drawings or photographs of the sample to use
in brochures, mailings, pamphlets, advertising, and so on. You can also
use the prototype to show to potential buyers, whether manufacturers or
buyers for department stores."
THINGS TO CONSIDER IN CREATING A PROTOTYPE
Prospective entrepreneurs with a new product idea should make sure that
they consider the following when putting together a prototype:
Adequately research the requirements of the product prototype. Edmark
recommended that entrepreneurs follow these basic steps:1) Write down
all the materials, supplies, and tools that might be needed in creating
the prototype; 2) Identify and order the various steps necessary to
assemble the prototype; 3) Identify which parts can be easily purchased
and/or found around the home, and which parts will need to be custom
Make sure the prototype is well-constructed. "Prototypes must be
well made because often they take quite a beating at the hands of
executives," warned Levy. "Don't be surprised when
prototypes come back broken because they were mishandled or poorly
packed for shipment. It happens at the best of companies. It comes with
Do not shirk on presentation, even at the prototype stage. "You
must be as sophisticated and slick in your presentation to potential
licensees as they will have to be in their pitch to the trade and/or the
consumer," wrote Levy.
Recognize that complex product ideas may require outside assistance from
professional prototype makers. Universities, engineering schools, local
inventor organizations, and invention marketing companies are all
potential sources of information on finding a good person to help you
make your prototype. But before hiring a prototype maker, entrepreneurs
should make certain that they can meet your expectations. To help ensure
that you are satisfied, conduct research on the maker's business
reputation and make certain that you adequately communicate your
Consider making multiple submissions to potential licensees. Some
inventors send prototypes to several manufacturers at the same time.
Levy recommended, however, that "if a company asks you to hold
off further presentations until it has an opportunity to review the item
at greater length, try to set guidelines. In all fairness, some products
require a reasonable number of days to be properly considered. However,
if you feel the company is asking for an unreasonable period of time,
seek some earnest money to hold the product out of circulation."
A relatively recent development in the creation of prototypes is rapid
prototyping (RP). Also known as desktop manufacturing, RP takes advantage
of computer technology to turn designs into three-dimensional objects.
Some older RP systems work by printing multiple layers of plastic ink to
create a model of a computer-generated image. Some newer systems are able
to freeze water into a three-dimensional ice sculpture model, while the
most sophisticated systems can create metal molds. RP technology saves
time in the product development process. It also improves product design
by allowing various people to see a model and have input without creating
a full-fledged prototype. It has been used by large companies like
automakers and aircraft manufacturers for several years, and it is now
becoming accessible to small businesses as well.
"Properly used, rapid prototyping can greatly accelerate product
development and lead to high-quality, defect-free products. Fortunately,
the new generation of rapid prototyping tools, variously known as
conceptual modelers, desktop modelers, and 3D printers, are much faster
than earlier versions. They lend themselves to use by engineers in office
environments," G. Thomas Clay and Preston G. Smith wrote in
"Three-dimensional prototypes put engineers, managers,
manufacturing staff, and marketers on equal footing in evaluating designs.
All the interested parties can see, touch, and handle the design, just as
the ultimate customers will."
Clay, G. Thomas, and Preston G. Smith. "Rapid Prototyping
Accelerates the Design Process."
Denalli, Jacquelyn. "Inventor's Circle—Terms of
Edmark, Tomima. "Model Approach: Creating a Prototype that will Wow
"From Concept to Crystal Clear Prototype."
August 28, 2000.
Kochan, Detlef, Chee Kai Chua, and Du Zhaohui. "Rapid Prototyping
Issues in the 21st Century."
Computers in Industry.
Levy, Richard C.
The Inventor's Desktop Companion: The Guide to Successfully
Marketing and Protecting Your Ideas.
Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1995.
Schrage, Michael. "How Prototypes Can Change Your Business."
Across the Board.