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Advice for Inventors: Never Give Up


By Amy Cowperthwait

Founder and CEO, Avkin

As an inventor, I'm always wondering where the next good idea will come from. My idea to start Avkin (formerly known as came to me when I was a nurse educator and simulationist at the University of Delaware: I identified a chasm in the medical manikin technology. Healthcare providers practicing often complex medical procedures did not receive any direct feedback from the inert teaching tools we had purchased at great cost.

I came up with the idea of creating lifelike simulation devices that live, "patient" actors could wear and would provide sensations so the "patient" could respond appropriately to the care. The real-time feedback would tell the learners whether their technique was effective or ineffective, or was causing discomfort through the eyes and mouth of the "patient."

After considerable research, I conceptualized a basic tracheostomy-care prototype. The product evolved into a wearable device for teaching essential airway care and management. During many sleepless nights, nagging questions swirled in my mind: Would we ever arrive at a product I was satisfied with? Could we continue to afford the costly research and development? And ultimately, would the prototype help other simulationists better prepare nurses and other healthcare providers to treat patients?

There were times when I became discouraged. It would have been easy to give up and move on to something else. But with each prototype, I got a little closer to the product I knew other simulationists wanted and what students needed. Somehow, I stuck with it and Avtrach succeeded in the marketplace.

Looking back, the thing that kept me going wasn't the product itself, but the thought that the product would enable patients to receive better care and novice healthcare providers would feel confident about their skills. My main motivation was the people whom the product would help.

Here are some tips for aspiring inventors:

Do Your Research

Before you spend money on a prototype, ask around – do some research about your product idea to see if other people share your opinions. You may find that someone else has patented a similar product, or have the happy realization, like I did, that that yours is unique.

Will Your Invention Sell?

Before you put too much time and energy into your idea, try to determine whether it has a chance of selling – some ingenious ideas are too costly to market. When you estimate a cost, do not forget to add in the cost to start a business and complete the research and development. I had no idea how much it took to start a company, but I am learning quickly. Ask your customer base to ensure people will pay the price needed to keep your company in business.

Learn About the Invention Business

As you work to get an invention off the ground, educate yourself about the business surrounding it. If I had any one specific piece of advice here it would be to make sure you know what you are doing and saying regarding company stock and investors. I wish I had known about vesting of stock from the beginning. Read up on patents, prototypes and marketing – having this information can keep you from wasting time and money. This may be a good time to find a sharp patent attorney and do not be afraid to ask for some pro bono work in the beginning.

Work on Your Brand

Once you've started the patent process for your viable invention, take some time to come up with a suitable name, logo and trademark. Effective branding helps you build a presence in the marketplace.

Most of all, never give up. When trying to solve a problem with a new invention, keep in mind that the marketplace is hungry for innovative products that not only capture people's imagination but, more importantly, satisfy their needs and make their lives better. As Steve Jobs pointed out, sometimes people do not know what they want until you show it to them.

I can't begin to tell you how rewarding it is to know that something I started is going to improve the lives of both healthcare providers and their patients. And create jobs. And encourage other young inventors. And grow a business. 

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