Eastern Kentucky is home to a growing entrepreneur community. For those interested in starting their own businesses, it’s never been a better time to explore the opportunities available.
SOAR Innovation — powered by Kentucky Innovation — works closely with Eastern Kentucky startups to help them achieve success. Our team has the privilege of collaborating with some of the smartest changemakers our communities have to offer.
Many individuals in our region approach SOAR Innovation because they’re interested in inventing new products and bringing brand new business ideas to the market.
If you’ve always wanted to commercialize a business, patent an invention, or both — and aren’t sure how to get started — follow the steps in this guide. Before you know it, you can become a part of this thriving, supportive community of inventors and business owners.
What is commercialization?
Commercialization is the process you follow to bring a new product or service to the market. It’s relevant to many types of businesses that want to access a large market of customers.
For example, if you invented a hot sauce recipe and are selling it locally —but want to reach more customers by tapping into a broader distribution network — commercialization may be for you.
Or, in a different context, if you have an idea for innovative new software, but need to scale it to a larger pool of users to reach its potential, commercialization can help you achieve that.
How to commercialize your business
Step 1: Assess the competitive and industry landscape
You need to understand the existing market for your potential business by researching the competitive and industry landscape.
Create a spreadsheet where you can collect side-by-side comparisons of potential competitors. As a starting point, you should capture:
- What products and services they offer
- How they’re different (or similar) to your idea
- Who their target audience is
- How they summarize their value proposition
- Price points and structures
- Customer reviews
You should also look at how your target industry as a whole is performing. Figure out if it’s growing by checking out industry reports on Statista.
Pro tip: If an industry report costs money, do a Google search to see if any press releases or articles provide the most important metrics without buying the report.
Step 2: Identify your ideal customer profile (ICP)
Once you determine that there’s room to grow within your target industry, you’ll need to continue investigating the market. This starts with defining your ICP.
Your ideal customer profile paints a picture of who exactly can benefit most from your product, including the following details:
- Demographics: Age, gender, location, highest level of education completed
- Work information: Title, industry, skills
- Psychographics: Attitudes, aspirations, beliefs
- Pains and desires: Whom they aspire to be, what they believe will help get them to achieve their wants — as well as the types of associations and ideas they avoid
Step 3: Develop a business plan
Equipped with your ICP and industry and competitive research, you’re ready to develop your business plan. Entrepreneurs who write out their business plans are 16% more likely to succeed, so don’t skip this step.
There’s no need to write one from scratch. We recommend you use the One-Page Business Plan as a starting point. SOAR Innovation also provides an easy-to-follow guide to help you create your first simple business plan.
Step 4: Research current patents and assess your need for one
If you’re inventing a new product or developing software, explore whether obtaining a patent is right for you. The Kentucky Inventors Network is a resource to tap at this stage. Its purpose is to advise entrepreneurs at this stage of their business and help them through the process.
You can also partner with Kentucky Commercialization Ventures to assess whether you’re qualified to apply for a patent and to get help with your application.
Scroll down for a checklist on how to obtain your first patent.
Step 5: Create a go-to-market plan
Once you have a well-thought-out business plan and are in the process of patenting your product, you’re ready to start shaping your go-to-market strategy.
A go-to-market (GTM) plan prepares you to launch a new product successfully. It translates your business goals into action by bringing together the resources to help you make an impact.
Your GTM plan should include:
- At least 1-2 buyer personas based on your ICP
- A marketing plan
- A sales strategy
Step 6: Get funding
Investors and banks want to fund businesses with a strong potential for success. By completing the 5 steps above, you’ll be setting yourself up to have productive conversations about getting funding.
To apply for funding, you’ll need the following at a minimum:
- Complete financial documentation
- A business plan
- A GTM strategy (if you haven’t launched yet)
- List of assets (including patents) and liabilities
What is a patent?
A patent is a legal right of ownership over an invention. Most patents issued in the US are typically valid for 20 years and protect your intellectual property within the country.
The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) processes over 500,000 patent applications each year — and accepts about 60% of them.
Patent eligibility comes down to:
- Whether you can prove you invented something
- If anyone else already patented a similar or identical idea
- Eligibility of the invention: i.e., is it possible to achieve
Why do I need a patent?
If you intend to launch and commercialize a product, you’ll most likely need to patent it first.
There are four main reasons why getting a patent for your idea could benefit you in the long run.
- A patent protects you from copycats. If you have an original, valuable idea, others may try to copy it to reap the financial benefits. This happens more often than you’d expect. If you obtain a patent, it can help prevent this outcome by deterring manufacturers that comply with patent law. And if they don’t, you’d be well within your rights to initiate a lawsuit to protect your business.
- A patent makes it more difficult for other companies to compete with you. Healthy competition is the backbone of our economy. At the same time, you’re interested in maximizing your company’s value. Patenting your idea requires competitors to come up with their own approach to compete with you, which is much more challenging to do.
- A patent increases the value of your product to investors. Investors are interested in funding ideas with a low risk of failure. They’ll value a patented product more highly because it reduces the risk of competitors tapping into your value proposition and accessing your target customers.
- A patent enables you to license the product in the future. Licensing can be a highly profitable way to commercialize your business. By patenting your product, you give yourself the option of licensing to partners with the necessary production/distribution capabilities. But you’ll need a patent first if you eventually want to license your product.
How to obtain a patent
Follow these steps to apply for and possibly secure a patent for your idea.
- Assess whether you can patent your idea. According to the USPTO, your idea must be original, not already patented, and feasible to achieve.
- Search for existing patents. You need to rule out the possibility that someone else has already patented your idea. This product won’t be eligible for a patent if you can’t.
- Create your application. There are two types of patents to consider. The one you choose will depend on how far along you are in your product development and patent research process:
A provisional patent (otherwise known as “patent pending”) is a great option for early-stage inventors. It offers some protection during its 12-month grace period while developing your non-provisional patent application, which is a more demanding process.
A utility patent offers total protection for 20 years. Developing your utility patent application will require significant effort, including gathering all the research to back up your invention claims.
Provisional patents don’t turn into utility patents after the grace period. You’ll probably need to use the full 12 months to develop your application. Consider hiring a patent lawyer to support a successful outcome.
Commercialization and patent resources
Kentucky Commercialization Ventures is a collaboration to support commercialization and product inventors across the Commonwealth. They’re the #1 cheerleader for aspiring entrepreneurs and creators and can connect you with the resources you need to succeed.
The Complete Guide to Entrepreneurship in Eastern Kentucky is your go-to resource for product or service commercialization. SOAR Innovation put it together to help you prepare, launch, and grow your business.
The US Department of Commerce Office of Standards and Intellectual Property has a checklist to help you determine whether your idea is patentable.
The US Patent and Trademark Office website contains more resources for aspiring inventors.
Conclusion: Join a growing community of startups and innovators in EKY
SOAR Innovation is powering growth and invention in the EKY startup community.
If you want to commercialize a business or patent your idea, you’re not alone. There are abundant opportunities and resources to support your entrepreneurship journey.
Reach out to SOAR Innovation and download The Complete Guide to Entrepreneurship in Eastern Kentucky to learn more.