Three years ago inventor Steve Grant was thinking about designing a new kind of desk-top fish tank. He didn’t see any on the market that he liked, and he wanted to tinker with his idea. But he was worried. “So many times the people that I’ve read or heard about commit their life savings for their inventions,” he said.
Grant came up with an invention called the Lavarium, a miniature tank for betta fish that is shaped like a lava lamp. It comes with an air pump, glass pebbles and a switch for seven different-colored lighting choices.
But he had to figure out a way to get the Lavarium to market without taking any big financial risks. So he kept his day job, worked on his invention in his spare time, and came up with a game plan.
Here are his five steps for turning an idea into a profitable invention:
1: Have a prototype. Anything that you can piece together to give prospective companies a vision of your invention will work.
2: Protect yourself. Grant found out that he could have his idea somewhat protected by filing a provisional patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trade Office.
3: Find the right company. Grant went “shopping” at the stores that sell small fish tanks. He wrote down the names of the companies who manufacture them, and later he chose Hawkeye Aquarium based in Kansas City and Fenton, Mo.
4: Get an appointment with the right people. Ask for the sales manager, Grant said. Usually that person will be involved in the decision-making process. Then ask that person who else should be involved and how they can all get together.
5: Look for the right contract. Grant decided to transfer the rights on the product to Hawkeye, giving them the responsibility of production, marketing and patent protection. And 18 months after their first meeting, Lavariums were in stores and for sale around the country.
“I think the most satisfying thing was when I saw it in the store,” Grant said. “It was the coolest thing.”
Photo by Hawkeye International.