We asked Carl, our terrific guest blogger from Inventive Rants to write about some of the critical elements to success in inventing. Today, he chose to write on the importance of exploring new markets for your invention as this week's special posting for American Inventor Spot readers.
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It may seem obvious to most, but inventors tend to have blinders on when it comes to markets. I was guilty of this error, and I now know how to avoid this mistake in the future. My invention has broad applications in the chemical and paint industry, but competing with established manufacturers is difficult. Mechanical mixing does not rate as a high priority for many manufacturers simply because it hasn't changed much in a 100 years. You can talk about efficiency, speed and effectiveness, until you are blue in the face. Competing takes money. That is, unless you find a sector that has been ignored by your competitors.
I found a market that wasn't served by conventional mixer manufacturers. Four years ago, a major chemical manufacturer contacted me through product website. The application was in nano-particle mixing for the semiconductor industry. I had completely missed this opportunity! During my market research, I had done what everyone else does. Look at my competitors customers base. Wrong! I should have been looking for markets that my competitors could not serve. New inventions, technology, sometimes cast a shadow over existing products. There are areas that overlap. When I started my business, I immediately went to the paint industry, the predominant market served by my competitors. This meant that I had to compete on every level, including price, because many of the barriers to entry involve established distribution methods and sales people who had never dealt with selling technology before. Bringing high tech to a low tech industry has it's downfalls. After all, what's so high tech about stirring something?
A few weeks after the initial contact made by the chemical company, one of the largest semiconductor manufacturers called me asking the same questions. There was something going on in this market and it couldn't be coincidence. A few years later, that semiconductor manufacturer white-papered my technology into a process used to manufacture computer chips. If they had never contacted me, who knows what would have happened?
I never knew that there was an actual need for high tech mixing in a high tech market. For the curious, my mixer is used to mix a polishing slurry in a process called CMP. It is not unlike wet-sanding used to smooth out body filler on a car. In the chip process, it is used to polish away excess copper; the links that make up a computer chip. It never dawned on me that as computer chips get smaller and smaller, so do the fine circuits of copper. As a result, the tiny abrasive particles used to polish away the copper must become smaller and smaller. When particles drop well below sub-micron in size (smaller than particles of smoke), it becomes extraordinarily difficult to keep them mixed properly. My market found me.
Now I make it a habit to browse through a wider selection of industry trade sites every once in awhile. You never know what market will surface next. Sometimes the great idea comes before the market even exists.
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You can check out his other great articles at Inventive Rants.