Why Most Inventors Don’t Take Their Inventions to Market

I have a three-month contract to be the project lead on creating a proof-of-concept simulation for an inventor’s idea so that it can be taken to market.

The invention is complex.  While the inventor has decided to form a corporation and does have entrepreneurial traits – possessing an idea believed to have the potential to radically influence the way things are done, for example – hiring a project leader makes sense.  To paraphrase Tracy Wilkins, founder of TechLab, “Do what you’re good at and hire someone to do what you’re bad at.  Otherwise, you spend all day doing what you’re bad at.”  The inventor is good at inventing.  I’m good at making things happen.  That’s a good fit.

Deriving a three-page project description took the first month.  In attempting to explain complexity simply, one deletion of one line could make the entire description false.  To pare down a vision to three-pages, and still be true to the vision, and still be theoretically and factually correct, required exquisitely precise thinking, wording, discussion, revising, rethinking, rewording, further discussion.  Some days, the latest version in a Word document was noted by the hour and minute, not by the day.

Ellett Valley Sunrise by Steve Jacobs A project description, like a business plan, is not the inventor’s or entrepreneur’s idea. It’s a stand-in for the idea, like a metaphor is a stand-in for the thing itself.  “Juliet is the sun” is a perfect metaphor.  But, no, Juliet really isn’t the sun, and the sun isn’t Juliet.  How we envision Juliet will always be less than she is.

By definition, then, a project description to a project leader is going to seem a perfect metaphor for the project.  To the inventor, the project description will always be not quite enough, not quite it.  It will always be less than.

Why do most inventors not take their inventions to market?  The pain of letting go of the full and perfect vision is too great.  And committing to “Juliet is the sun” rather than being with Juliet herself?  Almost beyond bearing.


Photo credit:  Steve Jacobs

Anne Giles Clelland is the founder of Handshake Media, Incorporated, a VT KnowledgeWorks member company.

VT KnowledgeWorks is a unique growth enhancement program open to entrepreneurs in the New River Valley of Virginia and beyond.  Acceleration center and incubation facilities are located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg, Virginia

VT KnowledgeWorks sponsors include Attaain, Inc., BB&T, Handshake 2.0, Harris Office Furniture, Hodges, Jones & Mabry, P.C., Latimer, Mayberry & Matthews IP Law, LeClairRyan, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and The Becher Agency (TBA).


  1. And this is why it's vital that the inventor fall in love with the value of the invention to the customer, rather than the invention itself.

    In some ways it's like selecting a birthday gift for a child. The payoff to the giver is not in the gift. It's in that indescribable squeal of delight, and look of wonder, surprise, and heartfelt gratitude on that young face.

    Or perhaps it's like scratching an itch. The value is in making the itch go away, not in the scratching.

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