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Lessons in prototyping: Choosing the right approach to product development

When approaching prototype creation, you must make a series of decisions. This expert weighs in with her expertise. Photo courtesy

When embarking on the journey of developing and bringing a new product to the market, you as an inventor have to consider a multitude of aspects that add to the overall market success of your final product. And prototyping is one of the key product development stages that helps you achieve that.

Whether you're going to launch a hardware or a software product, or the combination of both — you need to have a prototype made. First, it allows you to validate your idea and see if it's worth investing time and money into. Second, it creates opportunities for product improvement, detection and elimination of design flaws, and cost reduction, especially during manufacturing.

Therefore, you will need to make a set of choices before you actually build a prototype to ensure that it results in a viable, cost-effective, and quality market-ready product. Let's look at major choice points and their implications that will help you navigate the process in the most efficient way.

To begin, let's look at the various options you have.

The success of any process lies in its foundation. Hence, before anything else you need to decide on the product development approach you're going to follow. Some inexperienced inventors, for instance, choose to go from product idea straight to having a prototype made. They skip three initial steps that are crucial for building a sound road map of the development process and creating a product with a maximum market potential.

In most cases, those inventors end up coming to companies that build prototypes to start from scratch. Usually, it's because they hit a dead end with their prototype or a product was manufactured with many defects. The latter is always a result of improperly optimized pre-production prototype, if optimized at all.

The extensive experience of our product development team shows that a methodological approach to the entire process, prototyping in particular, yields the most effective results. That's why we always recommend it to those inventors who choose to DIY their prototype. If you're one of them, here is a short version of the approach with steps it implies that you can use prior to prototyping. You can find the in-depth version here.

1. Product discovery

To set the path for the development of your idea you need to identify your product's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. In other words, you need to conduct a SWOT analysis, which will help you learn about:

  • intellectual property opportunities
  • your competition and target market
  • features your product should have
  • time and cost of your idea development.

2. Concept design

Based on the results of the SWOT analysis, you can establish the road map of the development of your product and get to creating a concept or industrial design. Concept design is a virtual representation of your idea translated into 2D renderings and 3D CAD models that show you a rough look and functions your product will have. These should be built in accordance with preferences of your target audience to ensure the product's market fit. Concept design is usually made by a professional Industrial Designer. But if you have a basic knowledge of how to use industrial design software applications, then you can make it yourself.

3. Market and prior art research 

Another important step before prototyping is gathering and analyzing feedback from potential consumers. This is done through market research. With a concept design developed, you can conduct focus groups and consumer surveys to understand if the audience likes your idea. The information you get will give you more opportunities to improve your idea and add necessary changes to the design before prototyping, thus reducing the cost of the process and increasing market potential.

Prior Art Search, or research of existing patents, provides some of the benefits as market research. But its main purpose is to identify similar product ideas that have already been patented, so that you can make your product stand out by adding unique features to the design, as well as avoid a conflict of patent rights.

In a follow up article next week, we will discuss more decisions you must make during the prototype process. I have also previously contributed to guest columns on the following:

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Onega Ulanova is the founder of OKGlobal.

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Building Houston

 
 

Devin Dunn leads TMC's HealthTech Accelerator, which is getting ready to welcome its next cohort in January. Photo via TMC.edu

For almost a decade the Texas Medical Center has been cultivating health tech innovation by accelerating life science startups. As it has evolved to meet the needs of both its early-stage companies and its member institutions, TMC Innovation has re-evaluated existing programming, introduced new initiatives, and on boarded leaders to represent the organization's mission — the latest of whom, is Devin Dunn.

Earlier this year, Dunn joined TMC Innovation as head of TMC's HealthTech Accelerator, a career move that represented Dunn's move to a different side of the startup world. As an early employee at London-based Huma, Dunn was instrumental in growing the health tech company from its early stages to international market expansion.

"I really like working with the dreamers and helping them work backwards to (figure out) what are the milestones we can work toward to make the grand vision come true in the future," Dunn says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The opportunity to work with different founders on that same journey that we had been through was really appealing."

Dunn oversees the accelerator, which has evolved from TMCx. The program offers health tech acceleration to two cohorts a year. Each group of startups is selected from around the world and invited to join the program — first at a bootcamp, a week long itinerary of meeting leadership from within TMC Innovation as well as its member institutions, before a smaller group of companies in invited to return to the TMC for six months of hands-on acceleration from the TMC.

Earlier this month, TMC Innovation hosted nine health tech companies at its fall bootcamp. Now, as Dunn explains, the team is extending invites to a select number of those companies and working on a set of objectives for each company to work on when they return to the TMC in January.

"We've had a week to learn about the companies, and they've had a week to learn about us and about Houston, and we'll come back to the table to see if it's a match," Dunn says. "Part of that process is developing a prescription, which is three to four key objectives we co-develop with the founders."

The selected companies will work with TMC Innovation as well as the greater TMC community on these objectives until May, when the whole process starts over with another set of companies in bootcamp. Across the board, Dunn says TMC Innovation is focused on providing support for startups looking for clinical validation — something all companies are challenged with at some point.

"One of the things our program focuses on a lot is opportunities for that clinical validation. How can you work with clinical champions, health systems, and various providers to get the clinical and efficacy data you need to show that your solution really does add value," Dunn says. "That's one of the hallmarks of our program."

Over the past few years, TMC Innovation has expanded its global presence by attracting international cohorts and forming relationships with other countries through what TMC calls their Biobridges. Dunn shares on the show about TMC's latest international initiative with InnovateUK on the show. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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