January 27, 2021 6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Like most industries worldwide, the inventing community and product licensing process have both been subject to changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. I’ve had the opportunity to interview leaders in many companies that practice open innovation to ask them how Covid-19 impacted the way they do business with inventors and handle their new product submissions.
First things first: Know that open innovation is alive and thriving. “Companies must innovate, or they will die,” declared Dr. Henry Chesbrough, the academic responsible for coining the term “open innovation” in his groundbreaking 2006 book of the same name.
In 2020, this statement became truer than ever. When one door closes, two more open, and that is exactly what I’ve seen happen over the last 10 months.
Companies still need ideas. That has not changed. I know many inventors were worried about this. But after all these interviews, I can confidently say that some elements of the open innovation process have changed, but the need for ideas remains very much a constant.
So, where should inventors focus their efforts in 2021? Well, the home fitness, kitchen, hardware, toy and game, do-it-yourself kit, pet and home office industries are all doing very well today. Remember, products don’t hit the market overnight. As you come up with new ideas and create new products in 2021, make sure that what you are inventing will still be relevant (meaning in demand) in at least a year and a half.
Here’s what you need to know now.
The review process is taking longer
Most employees are no longer sharing the same office, so it isn’t surprising that they need more time to review with their teams before providing feedback to the inventor about their submission. Be patient, and follow up only when appropriate — in my opinion, typically that means waiting at least seven to 10 days.
It’s easier than it ever has been to reach the right people to get your foot in the door
Reaching out to companies to pitch your product ideas has always been a little frustrating and time-consuming, but it’s gotten much easier since the explosive growth of LinkedIn. With LinkedIn, you can search for and identify employees who might be able to help you and build a relationship with them directly.
This strategy is so superior, it has rendered old methods such as cold calling almost defunct — and it’s also why I published an entire book about it with my friend, SmartPitch creator Benjamin Harrison, last year. Licensing Ideas Using LinkedIn describes the ins and outs of correctly reaching out to open innovation companies on LinkedIn.
Trade shows have moved online for the time being, and that’s not the end of the world
Traditionally, trade shows have been a great avenue for inventors to meet up with their licensees in person to keep their business relationships strong. Walking the trade show floor to introduce yourself and pitch new products has been a way of starting those relationships, as well. For now, trade shows have moved online, and of course it’s not the same.
Unfortunately for the industry, we’ve all learned it’s possible to establish and maintain professional relationships without traveling, because so many of us are at home and online. The trade show floor is hectic and crowded. It’s actually much easier to reach the individuals you want to connect with on your own terms and timing.
That’s the right strategy today. In fact, I think you’ll find using technologies like Skype or Zoom — where you can meet face-to-face if not in person — to stay in touch and forge new relationships is a bit more personal anyway.
Don’t get me wrong. I love trade shows. Nothing compares to the energy generated by having so many people and new innovations under one roof, but this is no excuse not to take action this year.
Pitching using Zoom or Skype is the new normal
This is one of the most significant developments for inventors that I have observed. Understandably, most inventors prefer to pitch in person because of the palpable real-time feedback. But for the time being, that’s not possible, and inventors have had to modify their pitches accordingly.
Don’t be intimidated. Instead, watch successful independent inventor April Mitchell demonstrate how she pitches her new product ideas using these mediums in this video.
Enthusiasm and practice are key to your success. I don’t recommend paying to pitch your product idea at a trade show, online or otherwise. You can get better and more honest feedback by approaching the right people privately.
Recently, I interviewed an entrepreneur who landed his first purchase order for his new product, Waggin Water, with Target less than seven months after launching. How did he do it? He reached out to an employee at Target on LinkedIn who he thought could help and then pitched his invention— bottled water for dogs — on a Zoom call.
There are more educational resources about inventing to take advantage of
Keeping current has never been easier. Many organizations that were educating inventors in-person, including local inventor groups, have gone online. Everywhere I turn, there’s a new free educational webinar and podcast interview in the invention industry being promoted.
That’s a beautiful thing, because learning from people who have actually done what you’re trying to do will put you on the path to success. Online, the inventor community is thriving — and it’s gone global! Start showing up and asking questions. Your participation will be welcomed. You don’t have to feel alone; you’re a part of a community. Every month this year, for example, the organization that I co-founded with my business partner Andrew Krauss will be hosting an online meeting for inventors using Zoom.
Inventors, don’t take your foot off the gas. Keep inventing, keep pitching and by all means, be persistent.