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Funding Opportunities for Maine Businesses and Entrepreneurs

Maine Small Business, Entrepreneur & Inventor Innovation Grants

By Mike Brown

So you have a great idea for some technology that will lead to a new product, process or service, the only problem is you need money to turn your idea into a reality. In this blog I will tell you where and how to get your project funded.  If you are a private inventor, entrepreneur or small business, you will benefit from this!

Would $5k help you on your way? What about $500k? Let me introduce you to a great little group of people who have been helping stimulate the Maine economy since 1999.

“The Maine Technology Institute (MTI) is a private, non-profit corporation that offers early-stage capital and commercialization assistance for the research and development of technologies that create new products, processes and services, generating high-quality jobs across Maine. MTI was created by Maine’s legislature in 1999 to promote, stimulate and support research and development activity leading to the commercialization of new products and services in Maine’s technology-intensive sectors to increase the likelihood that one or more of the sectors will develop into an economic cluster of activity. (5MRSA 15302)”

So now maybe you are saying “great, but do I qualify?” The best way to find out is to visit their website here and follow the survey to figure out if your project qualifies. The requirements are broad, so chances are pretty good that your project does!

http://www.mainetechnology.org/fund/survey

MTI’s Top 2 Grants

Tech Start Grant:

“The TechStart Grant is a new funding opportunity offered …to individuals and companies across Maine who are looking to develop their new ideas and new products. Entrepreneurs with ideas of innovative technologies are encouraged to apply.

TechStart Grants will be awarded up to twelve times each year, for up to $5,000 per project. Funds must not be readily available from another service provider.  TechStart Grants also may be used to support specific activities such as business plan development, intellectual property filings, market analysis, or planning and preparation activities related to the submission of Federal SBIR/STTR Phase I grants or Federal Broad Agency Announcement for technology development.  TechStart Grant projects must have clearly defined deliverable outcomes and endpoints for the specifically funded scope of work not to exceed six months in duration. Each grant requires a 1:1 match consisting of actual cash, salaries, staff time, or equipment directly attributable to the proposed project.  Funded projects must fall under one of Maine’s seven targeted technology sectors.

…If you are a first time entrepreneur or have never applied for a grant or investment before, we suggest that you consider drawing on outside assistance, whether paid or pro bono, and preferably with someone familiar with the MTI TechStart Grant application process. “

Download the Tech Start Grant Application HERE (http://www.mainetechnology.org/docs/TS-Grant-Application-Instructions-rev-8-21-13.pdf)

 

Seed Grant:

“MTI Seed Grants of up to $25,000 are offered three times a year to support early-stage research and development activities for new products and services that lead to the market. Funded activities may include activities such as proof of concept work, prototype development, field trials, prototype testing, pilot studies, or technology transfer activities.  Funded projects must fall under one of Maine’s seven targeted technology sectors.

MTI offers Seed Grants as direct investments in companies that are pioneering Maine’s future through their technology innovations. Loan recipients are companies undertaking research and development that will enable them to grow and remain competitive in the global marketplace.”

Download the Seed Grant Application HERE

(http://www.mainetechnology.org/docs/SG-Application-Instructions-rev-5-3-13.pdf)

 

Partnering with the AMC

The AMC is the number one choice for product development work for MTI grant recipients. We are well known by the MTI team and can even help you with the technical details of your grant application to increase your likelihood of getting funded the first time around.

So now I’ve started you in the right direction to getting your project funded and as always feel free to email your questions @ amc@umaine.edu. Just put the title of this blog in the “subject” line.

I am also always interested to know more about you! Answer the questions below if you feel inclined to.

  1. What is the most important activity you do in your business?
  2. Do you have any pain associated with this activity?

Email me your responses at amc@umaine.edu

 

What should I do if someone else is already selling my idea?

By J. Bryant

This is an all too common situation and one of the largest causes of discouragement for people striving to innovate.  The easiest reaction is always to throw in the towel and start over from scratch.  But is that the right reaction?  Lets examine several scenarios and then dig deeper to answer it for you.

Situation #1:  Somebody is selling the exact same idea you have

In this situation you discover someone is selling literally the exact same idea that you have or had.  This means that there are NO DIFFERENCES  in:

If the idea you have matches your competitors ideas in most or all of the things in the list than you should consider re-working your idea until it matches situation #2.

Situation #2:  Somebody is selling a similar idea as the one you have

In this situation you find that there ARE major differences are in:

If the similar idea is literally only similar in perhaps application and is different in most or all other ways, than you might not have much to worry about.

Situation #3:  You aren’t REALLY sure if the idea is similar or not

This is the situation that will apply to most people who have discovered someone is already selling “their” ideas.  You think the idea is similar, maybe you’re even convinced, but you haven’t taken the time to discover how similar the ideas are.  So here’s some questions anyone in this situation should answer before they decide what to do.

  1. What are the major functional technologies of the other sellers product?
    1. Do these technologies match yours?
    2. Could you use a different technology to achieve the same outcome and improve the function of your idea?
  2. How does the other sellers product operate?
    1. Does it operate just like yours?
    2. Could you change something about your idea to improve its operation?
  3. How is the others sellers product used?
    1. Is it used just like yours?
    2. Could you change something about your idea to improve its usage or increase its usability for other markets?
  4. What are the major features of the other sellers product?
    1. Are they the same features as yours?
    2. Can you add or change features in your idea to improve performance, change or enhance it’s usage and operation, or increase its market?

If you have answered these questions and have defined the differences in your ideas than you have the tools to better understand what makes your idea different, and hopefully better than the competition.

So what do you do?

You want to be able to easily communicate to your customer how your idea solves their problem in a new, unique, and meaningful way.  You want to prove how your idea will do that by listing the unique features, and by citing the performance numbers that makes your idea not only unique, but better.

If you have found that you cannot answer these questions or you still aren’t sure we would be happy to set up a consultation with you to help you move forward.  If you understand better than ever how your idea is game changing and you want to move on to the next steps of development we would be happy to assist you in that process too.

Contact us at amc@maine.edu

 

9 Steps to Estimate What an Idea is Worth

By: Michael Brown

“How do I know if my idea will make money?

Is my idea profitable?

How much is my idea worth?

What are the pitfalls to avoid before commercializing an idea?

How do I estimate my ideas value?”

So you want to know if your idea is profitable or not? The fact that you are asking this question right now puts you ahead of the game in comparison with many people. In this article, I give you some tools and resources to start defining the numbers associated with your idea.

In the blog post Is Your Idea Good? my colleague James Bryant helps you ask the right questions to determine the quality of your idea to others (a key component of value). In this post I want to help you put actual numbers on that idea and consider what first-year sales could look like.

Let’s Get Started!

What I am about to show you is a simplified version of the Fourt-Woodlock equation, but first we need to understand some definitions.

1. Final Decision Makers (FDM) – These are all the people that could possibly benefit from your innovation. If your idea is for a new kind of piano, then you FDM could be piano players or piano stores depending on if you want to sell directly or through a distributor.

2. Trial Rate (TR) – This is a percentage that tells you three things 1. what percent of your FDM you can make aware of your idea through marketing 2. What percent of the people reached would be willing to purchase your idea 3. What percent of people are able to purchase i.e. have the disposable income. Common trial rates for general population (all households in the USA) FDM’s range from .004% – 10.58% based on disruptiveness of the innovation and the marketing capacity. a weighted average of these percentages is about 2.6%, this could be a good starting point for first round calculations.

 3. Repeat Rate (RR) – This is the percentage of first time buyers that will buy again in the first year.

4. First Purchase Revenue (FPR) –  This is the unit price multiplied by the number of units bought the first time.

5. Repeat Purchase Revenue (RPR) – The amount spent per unit for a repeat purchase i.e. if the price has dropped this is where you consider that.

6. Number of Repeat Purchases (NRP) – Simple enough this is how many times someone will buy again in the first year.

7. Trial Sales (TS) – TS is the amount of revenue from first purchase first time buyers.

 8. Repeat Sales (RS) – RS is the amount of money made from all of the repeat sales in the first year.

9. First Year Sales (FYS) – Finally! What we have been working towards. FYS is TS+RS i.e. all of your sales for the first year.

Keep in mind that TR has three distinct parts and if you want to be more precise you will want to break it down like this:

TR = %Willing to buy x %Able to buy x %Aware through marketing

 Example: TR for a major innovation in XX industry = (maybe 75% are willing to switch from current product or supplier because of the huge benefit of XX innovation) x (lets say it is very expensive so only 5% are able to buy) x (and we will pretend it is a niche industry so we can easily make 95% aware) = .75 x .05 x .95 = .0356 or 3.56% Trial Rate.

Phew! Now that we have all of the messy details let’s do the fun part. Here is the equation you will want to use to calculate you FYS.

TS = (FDM x TR x FPR)

RS = (FDM x TR x RR x NRP x RPR)

FYS = TS+RS

(If you hate equations it’s ok! Just download my spreadsheet here: Custom Fourt Woodlock Calculator and enter in your numbers to find out your FYS).

If you have any questions or suggestions about how to do this better I would love to hear about it. Email me at amc@maine.edu with the title of this blog in the subject.

 

What is a Prototype?

A prototype is simply a model that is used to demonstrate the qualities of a future part, product, process, or service.  A prototype can be anything that demonstrates how your idea works and what it will look like.  The term prototype itself is used pretty loosely and is applied to ideas under development along the way to becoming a product or service on the market.  At the AMC we break prototypes down into 3 major categories with 4 different types.

Three Categories of Prototypes

  1. “Looks Like” Prototypes
    1. These prototypes are used to demonstrate ideas that need development in color, shape, feel, and size.  Many Rapid Prototype or 3D Printed parts fall under this category.
  2. “Works Like” Prototypes
    1. Often referred to as “Proof of concepts”, these are examples that prove the working concepts of an idea. They may not be very pretty, but they will prove that an idea works.  Proof of concepts may have several issues to be sorted out, but they will verify the primary concepts.
  3. “Looks Like and Works Like” Prototypes
    1. These “Late Stage” Prototypes are a refined iteration of an idea. They are well investigated, often attractive, and have very few kinks to sort out. They may even be a reasonable representation of what an idea looks like before it goes to market.  Late stage prototypes usually are designed after an early stage prototype has been developed and tested.

Four Types of Prototypes

  1. Paper – Paper prototypes are very common.  Most people don’t even know that when they define their ideas on paper, and pencil in “rough numbers,” they have in effect created a prototype.  Paper prototypes are most often used to define Service Ideas.  They are also common to engineering and other technical concepts where mathematical models are very important to early stage development.  There are two basic kinds of paper prototypes.  Often they are combined to form an entire concept.
    1. WORD prototypes explain exactly how an idea works and defines all of the ideas and parts.  they define the Who, What, When, Where, and Why’s that are necessary for your idea to work.
    2. MATH prototypes define with numbers how your idea works.  The math includes financial models, technical models, spatial models, and anything that involves numbers in your idea.
  2. Part – Part prototypes are an individual item that demonstrates the important functional qualities of your idea.  A part prototype could be a component that improved performance on a thing that already exists by reducing weight or making operation easier or safer.  it could also be a completely new and novel kind of hand tool.  A part prototype is always a physical object.
  3. Assembly – Assembly prototypes are a combination of parts that work together to realize an idea.  Assembly prototypes can be very simple, with just two parts fastened together, or very complex with hundreds of thousands of components and sub-assemblies, many of which might even move.
  4. Process – Process prototypes physically demonstrate the actions required to accomplish an end result.  A process prototype might be a new business model or sales model.  It might also be a cutting edge approach to create new kinds of fuels that reduce emissions or take advantage of biomass.

Prototypes are defined by what category and type they fall under.  For example you can have a “Looks like” assembly prototype that is a scaled down 3D printed object that will help you visualize a future product.  A “works like” paper prototype could be a math model of the physics of a new type of engine.

 Check out a prototype developed at the AMC

NeuroCheck - O’Brien Medical partnered with The Maine Technology Institute (MTI) and the AMC to develop a modern testing device for diabetic peripheral neuropathy, or damaged or deteriorating nerves in the feet of diabetics.  The condition all too often can lead to foot ulcers and eventual foot amputation.  The current practice of using tuning forks is subjective leaves too much room for human error.  This device will eliminate the guesswork, and produce consistent results from user to user.

  

Working with the AMC, O’Brien medical was able to develop a completely customized solution that met their vision for the product.  the AMC developed, designed, and manufactured custom electronics, actuators, and stainless housing for this medical instrument.  O’Brien Medical was able to conduct clinical trials to further develop the idea.

The AMC team has years of experience in all manner of Prototype development.  We help inventors, entrepreneurs, researchers, and businesses transform their thoughts into real data, parts, and systems they can use to advance. Email us at amc@maine.edu for advice related to this article or if you have questions that you’d like to see answered in our next blog post.

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Is your idea GOOD?

Is Your Idea Good?

It can be hard to know if an idea is good enough to invest in.  There are many steps along the way from a Eureka! moment to a product on the shelves or a service ready for hire.  You may not know if you should even pursue the idea, let alone start spending time and money on it.  There are some things you can do up front to learn.  These steps can be done with little to no money.  They will take time, but what you learn by taking them will help you learn about the value of your ideas.

Write down your ideas, define them.  Give them life on paper.  You may find that as you write about them you learn things about them.  As you write about them they will change.  Your perspective on them may change.  Things to write about are:

  1. What IS your idea?
    1. What is it called?
    2. Describe what is does in one sentence.
  2. What makes your idea special?
    1. Why will other people care?
    2. What convention does it break?
    3. What will it do better than anything else?
  3. Who will want your idea?
    1. Who would buy your product?
    2. Who will pay for your services?
  4. What problem will your idea solve for them?
    1. Does your customer know they have a problem?
    2. Will they be eager for this solution?
  5. How does your idea solve their problem?
    1. What proof do you have that your idea can deliver that solution?
  6. What are the largests risks about your idea?
  7. How do the numbers look?
    1. How much will it cost to develop your idea?
    2. How many will you sell?
    3. How much will it save your customer?
    4. How much will it make you?
    5. What will your customer pay?
  8. Why do you love this idea?
    1. Are you passionate about it?
    2. Why is it important to you?

The things you write become the first real incarnation of your idea, a prototype if you will.  In this state you have nothing invested and you’ll learn a lot about both the things you didn’t know and the things you thought you knew.

Sometimes we learn an idea is simply near and dear to our hearts, and maybe we are the only ones who see value in it.  That’s OK!  Because ideas are free.  If you’re passionate about them then keep thinking.  Keep learning.  Write down more ideas.  The more ideas you write down, define and refine the more likely you are to succeed.  Don’t be discouraged if you have 100 ideas that don’t work on paper.  Save them for a rainy day when something may have changed in your assumptions:  a new technology, a new customer, a new method.  With ideas More is More.

Email us at amc@maine.edu.  We’ll answer your questions via email or in another post so you plan out your next steps.


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The Advanced Manufacturing Center
5796 AMC Building
Orono, ME 04469
Phone: 207-581-2756 | Fax: 207-581-2725E-mail: amc@maine.edu
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
207.581.1110
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