Most inventors dream of licensing their inventions to big companies and then sitting back and collecting their royalties. But for entrepreneurial inventors, the invention or idea is but a part of a large business plan.
Maybe Jim Newton, founder of Tech Shop, didn't have a grand business plan when he started his own dream shop just a year ago, but he sure does now!
The Idea: A Kinko's For Inventors
The Tech Shop, located in Silicon Valley's Menlo Park, California, is a playground for grown-ups where you can make invention prototypes, fix your stuff, sew your products, or further artistic designs. Your "toys" are actually pretty big machines such as "lathes, plasma cutters, sheet metal equipment, drill presses, band saws, industrial sewing machines, hand tools, plastic working equipment, electronics design and fabrication facilities, tubing and metal bending machines, electrical supplies and tools," and, Jim Newton says, "pretty much everything you'd ever need to make just about anything all by yourself." Like he says, "a Kinko's for inventors."
Newton put his Tech Shop playground together with mostly used equipment in a relatively low-rent area, making his start-up costs manageable, and when he opened his shop, he put his business plan to work.
The Business Plan
Offering one time entries and membership plans to inventors, hobbyists, artists, and dozens of other enthusiasts, Tech Shop operates much like a health club: you can come in anytime and use whatever equipment you want. With a long-term membership, you can even make advance reservations for the equipment you need.
Hours? Not a problem. Tech Shop is open from 9:00 a.m. to midnight! Staff? Always someone there to help you out.
Vacuum Forming Demonstration At Tech ShopAnd no need to let those big machines intimidate you either. For the safety of you and others, Tech Shop offers 18 classes in how to use the equipment it offers! A tremendous boost to DIY inventors are the CNC classes that teach you how to model your own prototypes from 3-D CAD designs.
The fees from memberships, classes, and one-time entries soon cover the start-up costs in this business. As membership grows, staff grows and profits start to be made (Mr. Newton plans on profits at 25-30 percent). Location and availability are key features of this business model. As in other service businesses, people-friendly staff and teachers are a must.The Entrepreneur
"I usually maintain two sets of dreams for a given invention or project, the wild pie-in-the-sky dreams, and the real-world dream, says Newton. "My favorite way to work on my inventions is to lose myself in the wild pie-in-the-sky dream for days or even months. When I have a clear image of what I want it to ultimately be like, I start to break off manageable chunks and add them to the real-world dream one by one as I complete them. Eventually, I am able to achieve the wild dream in most of its glory."
When asked about his future plans for Tech Shop, Newton says," My ultimate dream for Tech Shop is to expand it so that we can reach as many frustrated inventors, makers and DIYers as possible across the United States and the world and enable them to finally be able to build their dreams. I don't know if that means five Tech Shop stores, or hundreds."
No metal shavings are gathering under Jim Newton's feet. He's on the move as I write, traveling to San Jose, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego, Portland, OR, and Durham NC.... to meet with six of the 350 expansion-interested parties. Newton says, modestly, "This level of interest cannot be ignored."
A Boon For Inventors
Inventors need this service, if only to get out of our cocoons. But, more practically, to legitimize our ideas, those we've had closeted for so long because we didn't have the time or the big bucks to act on them.
And great news for teen inventors: if you're under 18, with proper education on use of the tools and an accompanying parent or legal guardian, you can use the services of Tech Shop too!
Soon you will not have to be the inventor that stands by while others with more resources create the products you thought of long ago. You won't have an excuse to say, "Ha! That's such a simple thing. I could have invented that myself!" Because my bet is that Tech Shop is going to be coming to a town near you soon... very soon. Because, as Jim Newton is proving, and as Tech Shop promises, you can "build your dreams" there.
see related articles:
How To Come Up With A Great Product Idea
How Do Inventors Go To Market, Part 5: Become An Entrepreneur
Licensing Your Invention: The Good, The Bad, and the Incredibly Bad
10 Marketing Tips For Inventors And Entrepreneurs