Whether it was in the shower or on your commute home from work, it hit you like a bolt of lightning. The brilliant idea that will make you rich!
Then comes the next realization: “I have an invention idea but no money.”
Don’t worry, that’s not the end of your story, as this absolutely doesn’t have to stop you from developing this idea further.
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In fact, you may be surprised to hear that plenty of people have invented things – and even become wealthy from them – despite not actually having the money themselves to develop and sell their grand invention.
So keep reading to find out how you could do the same.
How do I start an invention with no money?
In some ways, if you have an invention idea that you think people will buy, you’ve already done the hardest part.
Plenty of people would love to see themselves as some sort of Nikola Tesla 2.0, but don’t have the creativity to get to the point where you now find yourself.
Of course, the question of what do you do if you have an idea and no money does also present a bit of a hurdle. But it’s absolutely not insurmountable, if you follow the steps outlined below.
Can you get rich inventing something?
Most invention ideas aren’t going to make you a millionaire, although they could at least earn you a comfortable income.
At the same time, it’s always good to hear some success stories to see just what could be possible:
- Shaun Pulfrey went on the UK Dragons’ Den show (similar to Shark Tank in the US) with his idea and left with nothing. The following year, a major retailer bought his invention, the Tangle Teezer, and he’s made more than £12 million from it.
- Blankets with sleeves have existed since the 90s, but Scott Boilen took it to the next level with the Snuggie. He’s now estimated to be worth $200 million because of it.
- Who knew that cutting the legs off some pantyhose to wear under pants could be so lucrative? But that’s exactly what happened to Sara Blakely who, when she did this while getting ready for a party, inadvertently invented Spanx. She’s now worth $1 billion.
- Have you heard of Chobani? When Hamdi Ulukaya saw a gap in the US market for thick Greek-style yogurt, he started selling his own version to small retailers. The product took off and he’s now estimated to be worth $2.2 billion.
I have an invention idea but no money
The question of how to bring an idea to life, even if you don’t have the cash to pay for this, can be answered through following the process we’ve set out here.
That said, there is an alternative.
Many companies will actually pay you for your ideas, whether it be a new product that would fit in their company or an update to an existing item in their product line.
Depending on your idea, different companies will be more appropriate for your invention, so it’s worth doing your research to approach those companies that are the best fit for your idea.
You can find out more about companies that pay for ideas here.
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1. Document your invention idea to have an information trail
The first step once you’ve had an idea is to make sure it’s clearly documented. The aim here is to have an information trail showing exactly what you thought of and when so that if anyone comes forward in future claiming it was their idea, you’ll have proof that it’s yours.
How to come up with an invention record
Record your invention by writing down every little detail you can think of.
This doesn’t mean that the idea can’t change in future (although, if it does, it’s a good idea to thoroughly document that too) but, at this point, you need as much evidence as possible to fight any future claims that you stole someone else’s idea or that someone else beat you to it.
This includes not only how the product works, but also how you think it can be developed, marketed and sold to the wider public. If you don’t know every aspect of all of these questions yet, that’s fine, but remember that the more detail you’re able to include, the easier it will be in future for you to prove that the invention idea is yours.
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2. Research the market for your invention idea to see if it can succeed
No one is going to want to fund a product that has no market demand or that doesn’t fill a gap in the market somehow. This is why researching the market at an early stage is critical, so that you’ll be able to respond later with proof of why you believe your product will be a success.
It’s also an important step to make sure you’re not wasting your time by trying to push your idea to a market that either doesn’t want your product or already has something similar doing the same job.
Your research should also include:
- Doing a patent search – It’s a good move to do an initial patent search to make sure that someone hasn’t had this idea before you. The US Patent Office has some great instructions for you to use as a starting point.
- Doing a “prior art search”- This lets you see if there is anything out there that’s similar to your idea, which may prevent you from patenting your invention in future. This could include obsolete products or technologies, as well as products that are in development but not yet on the market.
- Check offline in relevant areas – You shouldn’t restrict your search to only information available online. Offline sources, such as relevant stores, in the field of your product may have information about a similar item
- Discuss it with trusted experts – Retailers or suppliers of similar products or the materials you think you’ll need to develop your product will have a good idea whether your idea has already been done by someone else, making them a great source as part of your market research.
3. Create a prototype of your invention idea to show how it works
It’s true that if you have an invention idea but no money, you may struggle to build a prototype of it.
At the same time, having a physical model of the product you want to sell will help manufacturers and distributors actually see what you have in mind and be able to give a better idea of how they can take it forward.
It can also be really helpful for you as the inventor to have a prototype, as you’ll be able to see if it’s what you had in mind or if any tweaks are needed to reach its intended purpose.
How to manufacture an invention
Unless you have someone else with the expertise or money (or both) to help you create a fully functioning prototype, you’re going to have to find a cost-effective alternative – which may not be entirely how you envisage the product looking in the end, but it will at least be a start,
Using materials like this moldable (and meltable) plastic can be really effective. This is because even if your product won’t ultimately be made of plastic, it can give you – and others – a really realistic idea of what the product will end up looking like.
I have an invention idea but don’t know how to make it
Research, research, research.
There are plenty of sources online for how to make different items using different materials. YouTube, in particular, is a gold mine of demonstrations for how to DIY various things.
Ultimately, if you want to see your invention idea come to fruition, you’re almost certainly going to have to figure out how to make at least a model of it.
This may involve getting someone else on board, whether to use their technical know-how to make the prototype themselves or their money to pay someone else to make it.
Either way, if you do this, make sure you have the appropriate protections in place to ensure that they keep your idea confidential. Alternatively, if you plan to split the earnings from the idea, the exact way that this will be done must be clearly spelled out in writing, preferably with help from a lawyer.
4. Patent your information idea to protect it
Now that you have a working model of your invention idea, it’s important to make sure it’s legally protected so that no one can steal your idea to profit from it.
There are four types of patents, which can be broadly summarized as follows:
- Utility patent – A document that shows people how to use a new machine, process or system
- Provisional patent – This often goes side-by-side with a utility patent and is usually set our as a less formal document that proves the inventor is the owner of the invention and has figured out how it would work
- Design patent – This protects a design, with the document consisting almost solely of pictures or drawings of the design. This applies to things like the shape of a company’s soda bottle
- Plant patent – This is just what it says: a patent for a new kind of plant
You can actually file for two patents, as seen by the fact that many people file for both a utility and provisional patent. This can be one strategy to be extra certain that your idea is protected.
That said, patent law can get complicated, so it’s worth doing your own research.
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How much money do you get for a patent?
There are a number of ways that a patent can help you get paid, but the question of how much money do you get for a patent is impossible to answer, largely because: it depends.
It’s like asking “how much money do you get for a car?” It depends on the type of car, the demand for that model, the condition it’s in, how well you market it and so on.
That said, there are a few ways to get money for a patent:
- The obvious one: Create and sell the product that the patent covers
- License your patent, by having someone that can make and sell the product pay you the rights to the product covered by the patent
- Use it as collateral for a bank loan
- Sell the patent, which could be a possible option for you if you’ve run out of ideas for how to get the product to market or if you think there’s no longer a need for the item
- Sell the patent to a business that’s moving to your country. Patents are country-specific so if a company is expanding overseas, they often publicly look for individual patent owners who may be willing to sell their patents.
Can a patent make you rich?
The patent itself is unlikely to make you rich, especially if you simply sell it to another company for a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars – then they turn around and use it to make millions.
The most likely way to get rich from a patent is if you license it to a company that pays you licensing fees, which can also become the perfect passive income source. For example, if the company agrees to pay you 10% of all sales, you’ll receive royalty checks from time to time that, depending on the sales, could make you very wealthy.
Can I simply submit invention ideas for royalties?
In most cases, simply submitting invention ideas won’t be enough to get you royalties, as any company that buys your license is going to want to see more than just an idea so that they’re sure there’s actually money to be made from your idea.
The exception to this is if you approach one of the companies that pay for ideas, which are often willing to go forward without anything like a prototype or even a patent.
5. Create a marketing plan to spread the word about your information idea
Having a marketing plan will allow you to figure out just how to get your product to the public – and, ideally, sell a mountain of them.
This may be hard to do if you don’t have the marketing machine of an actual company behind you, it’s definitely possible these days for smaller businesses (or even sole traders) to successfully market products. Just look at all the money people make on social media.
If you’re not sure what to put in your marketing plan, this article gives a great summary of what it should include. You may also want to use some of your earlier research in this, as you probably have at least an idea of which marketing strategies have worked for your potential competitors.
6. Seek funding for your information idea
If you have an invention idea but no money, you will at some stage of the process have to find some funding somewhere.
How can I fund my idea?
Some ideas for this include:
- Scrape together your own savings
- Ask family and friends
- Consider crowd-funding sites, like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo
- Check your local small business development center or local chamber of commerce for grants
- Take out a loan (although this is risky if the product fails as you’ll still have to repay the debt, so only take out exactly how much you think you’ll need)
- Look into angel investing, such as through AngelList
- For major products that need funding of more than $1 million, research venture capitalists
How do I find funding?
The question of how do you find someone to invest in your idea is going to depend on how much money you need and the nature of your invention idea.
For example, as just mentioned, a major product with large funding needs will also require you to think big when looking for investors. This means you’re probably not going to be able to go and ask family and friends for something like that.
As always, the name of the game is: do your research. There are plenty of sites online with funding ideas that can point you in the right direction.
You could also look into joining some entrepreneurship Facebook groups. Reddit also has some great information from people who’ve often been there, done that before you.
Related: 37 of the Highest Paying Online Jobs
How do I get people to invest in my idea?
The research you’ve done in earlier stages is going to be helpful here. That is, you’ve probably gathered information on the area of the market you’re looking to corner, so details like this are going to be super useful for getting people to invest in your idea.
If you’ve developed a business plan, then this will help, and your prototype will also be great for showing potential investors just how your product will work in action.
At the end of the day, getting people to invest in your idea involves selling it to them, which is a skill any potential inventor needs to have, and is why all the information you’ve previously gathered is going to be critical here.
Can you get investment with just an idea?
Getting investment with just an idea will be tricky, but not impossible. In particular, many crowd-funded ideas are only based on an idea without any prototype being in place yet, and the same can be said for some ideas that have been funded by angel investors.
Are there companies that pay for invention ideas?
There are some companies that pay for invention ideas – you can see a list of some of them here.
7. Get paid for your invention idea
This is the part that we’ve been building up to – getting paid for your invention idea!
Of course, the question of how you can get paid for your invention idea will depend on a bunch of things, including your product, how it’s being marketed, who is marketing it, who’s the target audience and so on.
But if you’ve reached this point after what will probably be a lot of hard work, congratulations! This is much further than many potential inventors reach, so you’ve already achieved a lot.
That said, the real achievement is making money from your invention idea, which is why you probably started this whole process in the first place.
How much can you get paid for an invention idea?
Not every inventor who’s gotten their invention idea to market has gotten rich from it. There are plenty just earning a fairly average income from it – and plenty of others who are basically making nothing at all.
This is why research at every stage of the process is so important. You don’t want to get to this point, having spent time and money (whether it’s yours or someone else’s) for something that won’t necessarily be successful.
At the same time, we can’t always know upfront when we’re on to a winner, so staying optimistic is also key.
And who knows? You may just become one of the success stories we mentioned at the start of this article.
Final thoughts on what to do if you have an invention idea but no money
It can be frustrating to have an invention idea but no money to develop it. However, if this process has shown you anything, it should be that there’s always a way.
And if you think your big idea could actually become something, then it’s certainly worth exploring. With the right steps, some support from others and a bit of luck, you very well could be sitting on the next multi-million dollar idea.