Through the non-profit EntreDot, I have the opportunity to work with entrepreneurs on a daily basis who are trying to commercialize a business idea. Yet, some people are concerned about their ability to generate original ideas. Last week I had the opportunity to attend a book club meeting in Charlotte, courtesy of BiG Council. The book being considered was entitled Idea Stormers, written by Bryan Mattimore. Bryan shares ideas for brainstorming that can help most anyone in any situation generate new ideas. While some of his methods are whimsical, others are more structured–something for everyone!
In a blog post for Entrepreneur.com earlier today, Jane Porter tackles the challenge of coming up with good ideas to start a business. She cites Stephen Key, the cofounder of inventright.com, and author of One Simple Idea for Startups and Entrepreneurs: Live Your Dreams and Create Your Own Profitable Company as an authority on the subject.
Porter considers the following 8 methods significant from Key’s work:
Ask yourself, “What’s next?”
Think about trends and technologies on the horizon and how you might move into those areas, says Sergio Monsalve, partner at Norwest Venture Partners, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based venture capital group. He suggests, for example, thinking about innovations related to the living room and home entertainment systems now that companies like Apple are developing new television technologies. “What can that mean in terms of new ways to live in your house and be entertained?” he says.
Do something about what bugs you.
When Colin Barceloux was in college, he thought textbooks cost far too much. In 2007, two years after graduating, he decided to take action and founded Bookrenter.com, a San Mateo, Calif.-based business that offers textbook rentals at about a 60 percent discount. What began as a one-man operation created out of frustration now has 1.5 million users and 200 employees. “You just have to look at what frustrates you,” he says. “There’s your business idea right there.”
Look for new niches.
Take a look at what some of the big players in an industry are missing and figure out if you can fill the gaps, Key says. In 2003, for instance, he started the company Hot Picks, now based in San Jose, Calif., after realizing the major brands in the guitar pick industry weren’t offering collectible novelty picks. Key designed a skull-shaped pick that filled an empty niche and was sold in 1,000 stores, including Wal-Mart and 7-Eleven.
Apply your skills to an entirely new field.
Think about your skills and whether they might be useful in a new area, suggests Bill Fischer, professor of innovation management at IMD , the top-rated Swiss business school, and co-author of The Idea Hunter: How to Find the Best Ideas and Make them Happen (Jossey-Bass, 2011). Consider, for example, JMC Soundboard, a Switzerland-based company that builds high-end loudspeakers. Jeanmichel Capt invented the speaker by applying his experience building guitars as a luthier, using the same resonance spruce to create a loudspeaker that produces a high-quality sound and looks like a sleek wood panel.
Find a category lacking recent innovations.
For example, when he realized there were few new developments in the product information label business, he created Spinformation, a label consisting of two layers—a top layer that rotates with open panels through which you can see, and a bottom label that you can read by spinning the top layer over it. Companies needing to fit more information about a medication, for example, could use the extra label space for the details.
Make a cheaper version of an existing product.
Take Warby Parker, an eyeglasses company launched in 2010 by four business school friends. The New York-based business sells prescription glasses, which are typically priced at $300 or more, for $95. Since its launch, it has grown to 100 employees.
Talk to shoppers.
If you are interested in mountain bikes, hang out in the aisles of sports and bike shops and ask customers what they wish they could find in the marketplace. If you’re interested in developing an e-commerce business, consider sending an online survey to potential customers to learn about their needs and interests.
Play the mix and match game.
Walk up and down the aisles of a drug, hardware or toy store combining two products across the aisle from each other into one, Key says. That should spark quite a few ideas, but be prepared for most of them to be bad. “You will come up with all these horrible ideas, and every once in a while you will find some brilliant idea out there,” he says.
Do these concepts stir your creativity? Great! Go start a business – EntreDot would love to help!