Contributed by Anand Chhatpar
The Internet has become a powerful resource for any innovator, and there are a variety of online tools available to help you with various stages of the innovation process.
Let’s go down each step of the process and see examples of tools on the web that can be used along the way:
1. Opportunity Identification: For discovering opportunities to innovate and for finding areas of need and untapped demand, use the following websites:
ePinions.com: Reading consumers’ reviews and complaints about certain products tells you which problems could be valuable to solve.
Inventory.Overture.com: Searching for keyword terms and phrases on this website tells you how many people searched for that phrase and similar phrases last month on the Yahoo network. When you get the number of searches, you can triple it to get the approximate number of total searches worldwide. If you find an interesting phrase that has high searches but not too many websites serving the need, you’ve found a good niche to innovate within.
Trendwatching.com: This website tells you about trends happening in the business world today that you could align yourself with to take advantage of their popularity. Every trend highlights the opportunities for business that lie within.
SpringWise.com: Another great website from the people who run trendwatching.com, which features interesting new businesses starting up around the globe. If you see a successful business in another country that could apply to your country, it is a clear-cut opportunity and you have lower risk because the business model is proven in another market.
Emily Chang’s Ehub: Emily does a great job of cataloging the latest Web 2.0 applications in her Ehub database. Many of these applications have become instant hits with the online audience and one can detect amazing opportunities by looking at the adoption rates of applications like Twitter.
Ethnography using YouTube.com: Who said watching YouTube videos all day doesn’t have business value? If you watch enough videos of people on YouTube using everyday products like skateboards or brooms or any personal care products, you will start observing trends and opportunities. For example, why do people still fall on ice during the winter? Shouldn’t this several thousand year old problem be solved by now?
BrainReactions.net: Using our online tool at BrainReactions.net, you could do a survey with your target audience to ask them what new products or services you could create for them. You’d be amazed at the number of opportunities you can uncover by directly getting in touch with your target customers. People like to talk, give feedback and brainstorm. Just launch your question and invite them into the conversation to see the results!
PewResearch.org: This website has an incredible database of research polls conducted across dozens of categories on hundreds of topics. Their reports uncover trends that can be used to pinpoint new opportunities.
2. Brainstorming: Once you’ve found areas of need and opportunity, your next step would be to brainstorm solutions that you can create to meet the need:
BrainReactions.net Brainstorming Rooms: You can use private online brainstorming rooms to brainstorm ideas with your friends, coworkers and even your target customers. You can not only add your own ideas but also sort and rank them. Simply launch a new brainstorm within your brainstorming room, invite the participants and let everyone collaborate.
If you prefer making mind-maps instead of group brainstorming, there are alternatives to BrainReactions.net like Mindmeister.com, bubbl.us, and MindJet.
3. Research: Once you have brainstormed a list of ideas and sorted them into top concepts, you probably want to do some more research on the most promising concepts in order to finalize on the top concepts you will create prototypes for. The following tools will help you with further research:
Wordtracker.com: Entering a keyword or keyphrase into wordtracker gives you a list of similar terms people search for online, and also provides you with an analysis of which of those keywords has the least competition, so you can easily get the highest search engine ranking for that term.
Patentmonkey.com: A much nicer interface than USPTO’s own patent search, which allows you to not only check out the patents related to your idea, but also find out their status to know whether the patents are currently active, abandoned or expired. Google also has Google Patent Search, but it does not tell you the status of the patent yet.
SpyFu.com: Competitive intelligence for your keywords that tells you approximately how much money your competitors are spending on pay-per-click ads and what terms they are using for advertisement.
4. Prototyping: With your research, hopefully you have narrowed down your concepts into the top 3 to 5 that you will take to the prototype level and test with the market. The following websites will make your prototyping task easier:
eMachineShop.com: Website that provides you a free CAD tool to design your product and to upload your design to them so they can actually manufacture it and ship it to you. You can order just one piece or a thousand, and the pricing varies according to materials used. The beauty of this software is that it gives you instant quotes when you are designing the prototype, so you can adjust it to make it cheaper.
eLance Photoshop artists: The eLance freelance talent market has a number of photoshop artists who can make a life-like looking image of your product or service idea using photoshop and image manipulation. Making the poster for a product in this way is much cheaper than making the actual product and allows you to test the market quickly and cost effectively.
5. Validation: Now that you have your prototype, your next step would be to show it to your target customers and see if people would like to buy it. You would do this before spending large amounts of money on R&D to make the product.
Kancept.com: Brilliant website made by master inventor Osman Ozcanli that allows you to upload a product concept photo and see an approval rating from a broad target audience. This website is like hot-or-not for product concepts.
Vizu.com: If you need more sophisticated answers and more granular survey audience targeting, you can use Vizu.com that allows you to conduct a distributed survey on the web for a very low cost.You can upload your product concept image and ask any question to your survey audience, so this tool can also be used to determine target pricing and other factors.
eBay.com: Here’s a brilliant idea coming from Timothy Ferris, author of the Four Hour Work Week. Ebay.com, the popular auction site, can be used to test your concepts quickly. Tim uses Ebay to post pictures of the concepts and guages the interest from the market by looking at how many bids he receives and what prices people are willing to pay for this product. He cancels the auction just before it ends and pays a small fee to eBay for doing so, but gets a lot more valuable market research in the process.
6. Implementation: Arguably, the hardest part of any innovation process is to fund, staff and execute the implementation plan for the product concept. Here are some online tools that can help:
Prosper.com and Zopa.com: Online markets for loans that allow people to get personal loans at reasonable prices from a large number of individual lenders. You can post your product concept here along with your funding request and if you find many “investors” who believe in the product, you will get the funding for it, upto $25,000.
GoBigNetwork.com: This online community connects entrepreneurs with angel investors and other people who can help with implementation of a new business.
eLance.com: If you can break down the implementation plan into a series of detailed steps, chances are that you can outsource most of those steps to highly qualified yet cost effective freelancers you can find on eLance.com or similar talent websites.
LinkedIn.com: The largest online professional network, LinkedIn has experts in every given area you can imagine.
Amazon Web Services: Jeff Bezos & Company have done a great job of providing a group of web services that can be very useful to entrepreneurs and innovators. In additional to scalable storage and computing, Amazon.com also has a drop shipment service they call Amazon Fulfillment. So, if you have a product that sells online, you can ship the container to Amazon, they will store it, package it and ship it directly to your end customer for reasonable costs. You can even automate the process programmatically because Amazon has a powerful web services API.