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Prototypes are working models of entrepreneurial ideas for new products. A prototype is defined as “an original model on which something is patterned.” 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.


Type 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 a license.

  1. 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. It simply proves your idea can be reduced to practice. 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.


  1. 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, consider these issues: the item’s sales 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.


  1. 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 when the product is in full production – but the added cost is often well worth it.

It is most valuable because it enables investors 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, 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 departmental stores.


Things to consider in creating a prototype

Prospective entrepreneurs with a product idea should make sure that they consider the following when putting together a prototype. 

  • Adequately research the requirements of the product prototype and 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-made.

  • Make sure the prototype is well-constructed. Prototypes must be well made because often they take quite a beating at the hands of executives. 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.


  • 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. 


  • 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 concept.


  • Consider making multiple submissions to potential licensees. Some inventors send prototypes to several manufacturers at the same time. If a company tells 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.

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