How to bring an idea to the market.
A low-cost, mobile ultrasound designed to reduce maternal and fetal mortality in the developing world. Software that provides longitudinal and contextual reports on tumor metrics for oncology scans. A filter that controls dose levels of older, less expensive chemotherapy drugs to reduce toxicity and cost to the patient. A blister pack for patients with contrast allergies.
What do these four items have in common? You can’t buy them. In fact, at this point, some of them are just ideas, and they were the subject of a pitch session at this year’s RSNA.
But, more important than what these products could potentially do was the guidance provided on how to best introduce an invention to the market.
Together, three experts familiar with the entrepreneurial world offered perspectives on how to best navigate the waters when bringing an idea to market. In addition to knowing how much it would cost to develop prototypes, how much capital would be needed to get the product to market, or even who the target audience is, there are aspects of being a start-up company that should be remembered and considered, they said.
1. Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs): According to Ari Nowacek, MD, PhD, with ARCH Venture Partners, you don’t need to worry about an NDA in the early stages of development and when you’re looking for a capital partner. Getting every potential financial backer to sign an NDA can be cumbersome and time consuming. Ultimately, he said, the longer it takes to get your product in front of a potential investor, the more likely he or she is to lose interest altogether.
Instead, use the “Show, Not Tell” method where you demonstrate your product rather than divulge the secrets of how you created it. If that captures interest, you can always pursue an NDA in the future.
Carefully research any potential investor you approach, however, he said. Some can be more aggressive and predatory than others.
2.Marketing: Contrary to conventional wisdom, marketing isn’t always necessary, said Michael Haimour, director of Boston Scientific’s U.S. Healthcare Solutions & Partnership. Not only can it be expensive, but if it takes too much effort to make your product look attractive, investors and partners might not be intrigued.
Instead, take steps to highlight the facets of your invention that will be most appealing to those you approach, he said, and let the rest speak for itself.
3.Get to know the technology transfer office (TTO): This is particularly important if you’re in an academic environment. The TTO should be your first stop if you want to pursue an invention, said Scott Penner, JD, senior counsel for Foley & Lardner, LLP.
In many cases, the university will claim your patent, and you must give them the opportunity to have first right of refusal. In some cases, though, they will give you permission to go forward on your own.
Ultimately, he said, the TTO can be an invaluable partner, helping to put you in touch with the right resources and to draft an effective business plan.
4. Getting a seat at the company table: Securing a meeting with a representative from a large company you’re eyeing as a partner isn’t as easy as picking up the phone, Haimour said. You must be prepared to search for the right contact.
“It’s a lot of hustle and networking,” he said. “In large companies, you could spend a year or more bouncing around, trying to find the right person that could drive a partnership or acquaintance.”
And, once you’re at the table, be sure you’ve fashioned your pitch so it positions your product to show how the company, as your partner, would sell more product. Highlight how your invention could complement what they already have or demonstrate how it could save them money.
“These people have very little time,” Haimour said. “So, be sure to get to the point.”