Invention Contests: Three Reasons They're Worth Entering
Our Guest Blogger, Tim Whitney, is a bit of a contest nut. He's the National Grand Prize Winner of the KeyCite Key to Good Law Contest, and a national finalist in both the 2005 Staples Invention Quest and Digital Innovations Design-Originality-Creativity Awards. His background in law, marketing and design helps him bring a critical and analytical eye to the inner workings of these contests in an effort to advise and inform entrants and help them make the most of these and other opportunities to promote their ideas. Tim gives us three reasons why we should spend a free afternoon entering an invention contest instead of watching TV.
Here's his article:
Every year, you'll find about a dozen opportunities to enter national invention (or other idea-related) contests (you can find a list of them on our Inventor Calendar). Some hold out the promise of bringing a product to market, some just financial incentives. I want to encourage you to put energy into entering these contests, whether they're in an area you're interested in or not. Here are three reasons why:
1. The mental stretch.
It's an extremely useful exercise to go through the mental discipline of coming up with an idea, especially if it's in an area you don't know much about. Say the contest is for pet products (there are a couple out now). Coming up with an idea forces you to consider all sorts of relevant questions: What products are lacking in this market? Where's the leading edge? What's the mindset of a pet owner? How much will they pay for a pet product? How would it be manufactured? Marketed? All of these are critical questions in the development of a viable product, and forcing yourself to consider them in a market where you have little interest ensures that you'll be able to jump through the same mental hoops in the markets you are interested in. Plus, in some cases, a blank slate just might give you an edge in developing innovative ideas.
2. The community.
There were some odd dynamics during the semifinal round of the Staples Invention Quest. No one really wanted to talk to each other, me included. There's something about being an inventor that carries this inherent level of distrust for other people...you certainly don't want someone stealing your invention! Once you get past that...and you NEED to get past that...you'll find an incredible community of creative, entrepreneurial types who are much more inspiring to hang out with than the usual workplace crew. Once the IQ finalists broke that barrier, we've been an incredible resource and encouragement to each other. They get "it". They want to help. They want my advice. They're on this roller coaster, same as everyone else, and the collective knowledge and experience is far more enriching and productive than sorting it out on your own.
3. The currency.
I heard an interview recently where Bono talked about his celebrity as his "currency" that allowed him access to high level policymakers to talk about issues like poverty and AIDS. Progress, even marginal progress, in invention contests, can give you currency in the product development community. As a result of my experience with Invention Quest, I got a front page article about myself in the local suburban newspaper, a human interest spot on Fox News Chicago, and I'm here blogging to you now. None of these were planned. Other IQ finalists got to speak at local schools and inventors conferences, and became something of local celebrities. Some were brought back by Staples to promote the 2006 version of Invention Quest. None of us made more than about $3,000 after taxes, but we were able to build enough notoriety to give us access to opportunities we otherwise wouldn't have, and with those new opportunities come new relationships, new connections and new ideas.
And last but not least...you've got nothing to lose. A decent invention contest submission should take you all of about five hours to think about and submit. If you get any sort of return for that, I can guarantee it will be more than five hours focused on anything else. So what are you waiting for?