Judy Castleberry
Judy Castleberry
In every industry there are trends. Start-up weekends, accelerators, and other quick-start concepts are the newest trends in the business incubation world.

These programs work with entrepreneurs with the next great idea on a short-term basis to get them quickly launched. These have been especially successful in the technology arena &mdash cell phone apps, biotechnology, software development and robotics.

Whether an inventor or entrepreneur or inventor opts for these super short-term programs or the longer 3-5 year typical business incubation, all have the same underlying principles.

The first task is to refine the idea. Start-up weekends begin with a pitch session of ideas which are then voted on by the participants (other entrepreneurs, business development counselors, investors, and such) as to which are the most viable. Then teams are formed to work on the idea for the rest of the weekend. At the end of the weekend the more fully developed concept are presented to investors and others who might be interested in taking the concept further. This is a quick and dirty way to test-drive an idea in the marketplace.

There are other ways to get this same information. Too often people start a business with the really cool idea that excites them and their friends. Hopefully, you and your friends are not going to be your only customers. So you need to start asking yourself a few basic questions: Is there a market for your product or service? Have you identified your ideal customer? Who are they? Why would they buy this product? What need does it fulfill for your customer?

Start by researching what is already in the market. Phone book searches, Internet searches and the like can turn up other businesses and products in your arena. Very few concepts are truly original. The idea is to find out how your idea is similar or &mdash even more important &mdash different from what is already out there.

For example, if your idea is a new video game, look at the plethora of video games that are already on the market. What makes yours different? Is it funnier, more creative, are the graphics revolutionary, is the role playing unique?

A new restaurant should also start with the competition. How many other restaurants are in the area you are looking at? How busy are they? Who are their customers? Why do these customers select a specific restaurant?

Now that you have an idea of your market arena, it is time to revisit your idea. If you are thinking of a new pizza place, where do you fit? Are you going to be the no-frills cheapest pizza in town, the one with the fun atmosphere for children, or the artisan pizza with a beer and wine license? Each of these concepts is niches within the pizza-eating public. Are there enough people in your niche to support your concept?

This is where a look at demographics is important. Are you looking at a location in an area with a lot of young families with small children? A fun atmosphere with video games and a playroom for the kids might make your place an instant hit. On the other hand, a bar-type atmosphere might not be at all successful.

If your idea does not fit in an already established arena such as pizza or video games, you need to find out as much as possible about your customer. If you are trying to fulfill a need, ask how this need was fulfilled before you came along. Why should this customer change their way of doing something? Are you really giving them a better solution? Is your concept cheaper, safer, faster, etc. than their other solution? Talk to as many potential customers as you can. Get a candid reaction to your proposed product or service. These people may end up being your most ardent supporters if you address their needs and concerns up front.

One of the biggest hurdles in market resource can be your own ideas. We all love our own ideas. But that does not make them the best ideas. One of the dynamics of start-up weekends, accelerators and business incubators is other people have an opportunity to weigh in on your idea. This is why the mixture of participants is so broad.

Mixing entrepreneurs, business development resources and old-fashioned market research will make your idea a more viable concept.

It is much less costly to tweak your product or service in the conceptual stage than in the often brutal arena of the marketplace. Do your research and use all available resources and you will have a much more successful launch of your business.

Judy Castleberry is interim director of the San Juan College Enterprise Center. She can be reached at castleberryj@sanjuancollege.edu.