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Find a Manufacturer for Your Invention

Last year, my invention for people with troubled feet was patented as an alternative to foot surgery. I would like to have a manufacturer reproduce about 100 pairs of my prototype so I can test the market and see how well it does. Where can I find a U.S. manufacturer to do this? —P.J., New York, N.Y.

Many inventors have great ideas, but like you, they need help taking steps toward commercialization, production, and distribution. Particularly with a medical or health product, there’s quite a hurdle to get from invention to market, especially when you may have to compete with the huge research and development budgets of such household name brands as Medtronic (MDT) or Nike (NKE) to do so.

Your first challenge is to successfully answer three questions, says Bill Donohue, vice president of Genedge Alliance, a Virginia-based affiliate of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which operates as part of the U.S. Commerce Dept.

You have to let your potential customers know: what exact problem your invention solves; what about it will entice distributors to carry it and customers to buy it; and finally, why they should believe you and the promise you’re making.

“Answering those questions is not easy at times” for entrepreneurs, Donohue says. For instance, in order to prove your product is a viable alternative to surgery, you’ll need to have an independent organization—preferably academic-oriented—run third-party clinical trials. The trials would compare results from your device with the surgical procedures it is designed to replace.

Those trials can take years to conduct properly and will likely be expensive. “There may be a need to evaluate alternative materials of construction and design characteristics to come up with the right combination of comfort, durability, and affordability. This may require specialized knowledge in orthopedic mechanics, as well as engineering design,” Donohue says. It’s likely that you may find yourself partnering with established companies in this industry or seeking funds from outside investors such as venture capital firms, he says, to get your product launched.

Since you’ve got a patent, start by visiting MEP’s marketplace hub, where you can evaluate thousands of prospective manufacturing partners. You can get questions answered and find low-cost coaching help to develop a commercialization plan for your product through the Industrial Technology Assistance Center of New York City, or the New York state MEP affiliate in Albany.

You might also consider attending the upcoming MEP conference in May, in Orlando, Fla. While such gatherings can be expensive, entrepreneurs often find that in-person exposure to ideas, processes, experts, and potential collaborators can speed them along through the learning curve tremendously. Good luck!

Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.

Your Small Business Questions, Answered

Send us your questions on challenges you face in your business. Journalist Karen E. Klein will interview experts and distill their insights into answers.

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