Ever wish you had insider's guide to what's going on in an invention contest?
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 some tips for the Staples Invention Quest contest.
Here's his article:
Staples Invention QuestLast fall, I had the unique opportunity to stand as one of ten finalists in the Staples Invention Quest ("IQ"). Made immensely popular by an appearance on The Apprentice, the 2005 version of IQ saw 14,000 entries, and the winning products are now coming to market. With the 2006 version of the contest in full swing, I thought I'd throw out some ideas based on my own experience that I hope will help any would-be entrants:
1. It's not really an Invention Contest.
Don't be fooled by the name. Unlike recent invention contests run by Whirlpool (Whirlpool Brand Mother of Invention Grant), The History Channel (Modern Marvels Invent Now Challenge), and even the American Inventor TV Show, Staples is NOT looking for purely the most innovative ideas. They have a vested interest in the outcome. This is a product development exercise for Staples...one that gets them great publicity and generates consumer-driven ideas for products for a fraction of the usual development cost. Just remember that when you enter...you are designing a product for Staples to add to their house brand, and house brands are historically the high-volume, low-margin items. With that in mind...
2. Think innovation but plan for cheap.
Flat-out innovation can take you places in this contest, but if you want the golden goose (although how golden is still debatable) of Staples picking up your product, development and manufacturing costs play a huge role. Three of the four 2005 finalists picked up by Staples were (at least on their face) the least expensive to manufacture out of all ten final ideas. The fourth product picked up, as well as the 2004 winner, were already past the development, prototyping stages and well into the manufacturing stage prior to the contest.
3. Come late to the party.
A disproportionate number of the finalists submitted their ideas on the last day of submission (mine was within the last hour). Two possible reasons: a) with ingenuity comes great procrastination, or b) the items that come in at the last possible minute get greater attention in the screening process, which Staples outsources. Hmmm....
4. Target the student market.
While the contest claims to be about innovative office ideas, the last two winners are almost exclusively student-oriented. The 2004 winner, WordLock, was the one of the central products in Staples' back-to-school campaign.
5. Don't try to change the world.
Don't try to solve major office headaches...solve the little ones, and go through the discipline of determining if it's actually a good idea or not: What need is it addressing? How difficult will it be to demonstrate to buyers that it's a good idea? How many people might actually buy it? How much is it going to cost Staples? And most importantly, ask other people if they think it's a good idea!
6. Tap into unexplored product lines.
Three of the 2005 final products that got picked up were related to CD/DVD storage. In one fell swoop, Staples created a whole new product line. So go to your local Staples...see what aisles have Staples brand products, and which ones don't. Look at the inexpensive name-brand products in the aisles that don't and build from there.