How to Start an Invention: A 5 Step Guide

Estimated reading time: 18 mins

The journey of how to start an invention: transforming an idea into a tangible, innovative invention is a path paved with creativity, resilience, and the thrill of potential. It is a process that has birthed items and concepts that have reshaped our world, from the wheel to the smartphone. Whether you’re a budding inventor with a flicker of an idea or someone who’s been tinkering in the garage for years, the art of inventing is a profound expression of human ingenuity and ambition.

I wrote this post in response to a recent article about invention ideas, where a number of readers asked me how to get inventions started.

how to start an invention

Embarking on how to start an invention is more than just having a sudden stroke of genius; it’s about nurturing an idea through several well-defined stages, turning a fleeting thought into something that can actually be felt, used, and experienced by others. It’s a blend of creativity, technical skill, and strategic thinking. This guide aims to demystify the process of invention, breaking it down into five essential steps: ideation and conceptualization, sketching and design, prototype development, intellectual property protection, and market analysis and commercialization.

Each step is crucial in its own right, forming the building blocks of a journey that can be as challenging as it is rewarding. Understanding these steps is key to navigating the often complex path from conception to completion, turning dreams into tangible realities. Let’s embark on this exciting journey together, exploring how to start an invention that could change your life, or even the world.

How to Start an Invention Step 1: Ideation and Conceptualization

Embracing the Creative Process

The genesis of any invention is the ideation and conceptualization phase, a stage where creativity and imagination take the forefront. This is where the seed of an invention is planted. It begins as a spark – an observation, a question, or perhaps a problem that needs solving. This is the realm of ‘what ifs’ and ‘why nots’, where conventional thinking is challenged, and the status quo is questioned. Here, your mindset should be one of open exploration, free from the constraints of practicality and feasibility – at least for the moment.

The Big Kahoona of How to Start an Invention: Identifying the Problem

Every great invention starts with identifying a problem or a need. It could be something personal, a challenge you face in your daily life, or a broader issue impacting society. The key is to observe and question. Ask yourself:

  • What frustrates me in my daily life?
  • What tasks could be made easier or more efficient?
  • What product could have a significant impact on a community or industry?

Research and Inspiration

Once you have identified a potential area for invention, delve into research. Look at existing solutions. Understand why they work and where they fall short. This research phase is not just about identifying gaps in the market; it’s about understanding the context in which your invention will exist. Draw inspiration from a wide range of sources – not just within the field you’re exploring, but from other industries, nature, art, and even history.

Brainstorming and Divergent Thinking

With a solid understanding of the problem and existing solutions, begin brainstorming. This is where divergent thinking comes into play. Encourage wild ideas, make unusual connections, and consider all possibilities. Remember, some of the most groundbreaking inventions were initially thought impossible or impractical. Techniques like mind mapping or SCAMPER (Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, Reverse) can be particularly helpful in this stage.

Conceptualization: Shaping Your Idea

After generating a broad range of ideas, the next step is to start shaping them into more concrete concepts. This involves convergent thinking, where you begin to evaluate and refine your ideas based on criteria like feasibility, market potential, and personal interest or expertise.

Ask yourself:

  • Which of these ideas genuinely solve the problem in a unique or improved way?
  • Which are feasible with current technology and resources?
  • Which ideas am I most passionate about pursuing?

Documenting Your Ideas

As you narrow down your concepts when you’re considering how to start an invention, start documenting your ideas in more detail. This might include writing detailed descriptions, drawing sketches, or even creating basic models or diagrams. Documentation is crucial, not only for remembering and refining your ideas but also for potential patent applications later in the process.

Seeking Feedback and Validation

Finally, seek feedback on your refined concepts. Share them with trusted friends, family, or colleagues, especially those who might have expertise in relevant fields. Be open to criticism and willing to iterate on your concept based on this feedback. Remember, the goal of this phase is not to finalize your invention but to build a strong foundation upon which to develop a viable, impactful product.

In conclusion, the ideation and conceptualization phase is a dynamic and critical part of the invention process. It requires a balance of creativity, research, critical thinking, and openness to feedback. It’s about asking the right questions, pushing boundaries, and being willing to iterate and refine. With a well-conceptualized idea in hand, you’re ready to move forward in the journey of bringing your invention to life.

how to start an invention

How to Start an Invention Step 2: Sketching and Design

The Transition from Concept to Visualization

Once you have a solidified concept from the ideation and conceptualization phase, the next crucial step in the invention process is sketching and design. This stage is where your idea begins to take a tangible form, transitioning from abstract concepts into concrete visuals. It’s a critical process that requires a blend of creativity, technical skills, and attention to detail.

The Importance of Sketching

Sketching is the initial step in visualizing your concept. It’s not about creating a perfect illustration but about transferring the idea from your mind onto paper in a visual format. This process helps clarify how your invention will look and function. Start with simple sketches, focusing on the basic shape and form of your invention. Don’t worry about making mistakes or not being artistically inclined; these sketches are primarily for you to conceptualize and iterate on your design.

As you sketch, consider different perspectives and angles, how parts might fit together, and where components might be located. Think about the user experience – how someone will interact with your invention, the ergonomics, and the aesthetics. Your sketches should evolve over time, becoming more detailed and refined as your concept becomes clearer.

Utilizing Design Software

Once you have a clearer idea on how to start an invention from your sketches, it’s often beneficial to move to digital design. Various design software, such as CAD (Computer-Aided Design) programs like AutoCAD, SolidWorks, or SketchUp, can be incredibly useful. These tools allow you to create precise, scalable, and editable 3D models of your invention. They can provide a more realistic view of how your invention will look and function and are particularly helpful if you’re planning to create a prototype or apply for a patent.

Learning these programs can be a steep curve, but many online resources and tutorials can help. The investment in learning these tools can pay off significantly in the clarity and precision they bring to your design process.

Designing for Functionality and Manufacturability

As you refine your design, it’s essential to keep in mind both functionality and manufacturability. This means considering not only how your invention will work but also how it can be practically manufactured. Think about the materials you will use, how parts will be assembled, and what manufacturing processes might be involved. This is where technical knowledge or consultation with engineers or product designers can be invaluable.

Prototyping Considerations in Design

As you design, remember that your ultimate goal at this stage is to create a prototype. Your design should be detailed enough to guide the prototyping process but flexible enough to allow for changes based on prototype testing. Consider how different elements of your design might be tested and what adjustments might need to be made.

Iteration: A Key Component of Design

Design is rarely a linear process. Expect to go back to the drawing board multiple times. Each iteration should improve upon the last, taking into account new insights, feedback, and technical considerations. This iterative process is essential to refine your invention and prepare it for the next stages of prototyping and development.

Documenting the Design Process

Throughout the sketching and design phase, document everything. Keep detailed records of your sketches, design iterations, the rationale behind design decisions, and any feedback or test results. This documentation is not only vital for refining your design but can also be crucial for patent applications and future reference as you move toward production.

In summary, the sketching and design phase is where your invention starts to come to life. It’s a process that requires a balance of creativity, technical knowledge, and practical considerations. By moving from initial sketches to more detailed digital designs, and through iterative refinement, you’ll develop a solid foundation for the subsequent stages of prototyping and production.

How to Start an Invention Step 3: Prototype Development

The Bridge Between Design and Reality

how to start an invention

After conceptualizing and designing your invention, the next crucial phase of how to start an invention is prototype development. This is where your idea, for the first time, transitions from sketches and digital models into a physical, tangible form. Prototype development is a pivotal step in the invention process, serving as a bridge between your design and the final product. It’s where you get to interact with your invention, test it, and learn from it.

Building Your First Prototype

The first iteration of your prototype doesn’t have to be perfect or even close to the final product. The primary goal is to create a physical representation of your invention to test its functionality. This initial prototype can be made from basic materials like cardboard, foam, or 3D-printed plastic – whatever is sufficient to give a sense of the shape, size, and basic function.

Iterative Process of Refinement

Prototype development is inherently iterative. Based on the feedback and insights gained from each prototype, modifications and improvements are made. This process might be repeated several times to refine the functionality, ergonomics, aesthetics, and efficiency of the invention. It’s crucial to remain flexible and open to changes during this phase, as each iteration brings you closer to a viable product.

Technical Challenges and Problem-Solving

Developing a prototype often brings technical challenges and unforeseen problems. These challenges are not setbacks but opportunities to improve your invention. You may need to learn new skills, consult with experts, or experiment with different materials and techniques. Problem-solving is a vital skill in this phase, as you’ll need to find creative solutions to make your invention work as intended.

User Testing and Feedback

The next stage of how to start an invention is testing your prototype. If possible, get people who represent your target market to use the prototype. Observe how they interact with it, ask for their feedback, and note any issues or areas for improvement. User testing is invaluable as it provides real-world insights into how your invention will be used and perceived.

Safety and Compliance

As you develop your prototype, consider safety and compliance with industry standards. This is especially crucial if your invention is a product intended for public use. Research and adhere to relevant safety standards and regulations to ensure that your invention is not only effective but also safe and legal.

Cost Considerations

Keep an eye on costs throughout the prototyping phase. The materials, tools, and expertise required to build a prototype can add up quickly. It’s important to manage your budget effectively, balancing the need for a functional prototype with the practicalities of cost. Sometimes, simpler and less expensive materials or methods can be used in the early stages, with more expensive processes reserved for later iterations.

Professional Prototyping Services

Depending on the complexity of your invention and your personal skill set, you may consider using professional prototyping services. Companies specializing in prototype development can offer expertise, advanced manufacturing technologies, and materials that might not be accessible otherwise. While this can be more expensive, it can also save time and provide a higher quality prototype.

Documenting the Process

Document every step of the prototype development process. This includes design changes, problems encountered and how they were solved, feedback from testers, and any other relevant information. This documentation is crucial for refining your prototype and can be invaluable for patent applications, investor presentations, and future manufacturing.


Prototype development is a dynamic, often challenging, but incredibly rewarding phase in the invention process. It’s where your idea becomes something you can touch, test, and improve upon. Through an iterative process of building, testing, and refining, you’ll gain invaluable insights into your invention, helping to pave the way for the final product. This stage is about learning, adapting, and inching closer to turning your vision into a reality.

How to Start an Invention Step 4: Intellectual Property Protection

Navigating the Complex World of Intellectual Property

Once you have a working prototype of your invention, the next crucial step in how to start an invention is to protect your intellectual property (IP). This stage is often overlooked by inventors, but it’s critical for safeguarding your idea and ensuring that you can benefit from your hard work. Intellectual property protection can be complex, but understanding its basics is essential for any inventor.

how to start an invention

Understanding Different Types of IP Protection

IP protection comes in various forms, and the right type for you will depend on your specific invention:

  1. Patents: Patents are the most common form of protection for inventions. They give you the exclusive right to make, use, or sell your invention for a certain period, typically 20 years. Patents are divided into utility patents (for new processes or machines), design patents (for new, original, and ornamental designs for an article of manufacture), and plant patents (for new varieties of plants).
  2. Trademarks: If your invention includes a unique brand name, logo, or slogan, you may want to consider a trademark. Trademarks protect symbols, names, and slogans used to identify goods or services.
  3. Copyrights: While not typically associated with inventions, copyrights protect original works of authorship, including literature, music, and sometimes software.
  4. Trade Secrets: This is another form of protection that applies to information that is not generally known and that gives you a competitive advantage. Trade secrets require no registration but do require measures to keep the information secret.

The Patent Process

The patent process can be daunting, but it’s a necessary step for many inventors. Here’s a simplified overview:

  1. Patent Search: Before applying for a patent, conduct a thorough search to ensure your invention is novel. This can be done using various online patent databases.
  2. Patent Application: Prepare and file a patent application with the relevant national or international patent office. This typically includes a detailed description of your invention, how it works, and how it’s different from existing inventions.
  3. Patent Examination: After filing, a patent examiner will review your application to ensure it meets all criteria for patentability. This process can take several years and may require responding to the examiner’s questions or objections.
  4. Patent Grant: If your application is successful, you’ll be granted a patent. It’s important to note that patents are territorial, meaning they only give protection in the countries where they are granted.

Consider Hiring a Professional

Given the complexity of IP law, many inventors choose to work with a patent attorney or agent. These professionals can help navigate the patent process, prepare and file applications, and respond to any office actions from the patent office.

Protecting Your IP Internationally

If you think your invention has global potential, consider international IP protection. Tools like the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) can help you seek patent protection in multiple countries through a single application.

Continuous Management of Your IP

IP protection doesn’t end with obtaining a patent or trademark. It’s important to manage and enforce your rights actively. This may involve monitoring the market for potential infringements, renewing patents or trademarks as required, and being prepared to take legal action if necessary.

The Value of IP Strategy

Developing a comprehensive IP strategy when finalising how to start an invention is crucial. This involves not only protecting your invention but also understanding how to leverage your IP for business success. It could mean licensing your patent, using your IP to attract investors, or integrating it into a broader business plan.


Intellectual property protection is an essential step in how to start an invention. It safeguards your ideas and provides a legal framework to monetize your invention. While the process can be complex and sometimes costly, the protection it offers is invaluable for any serious inventor. By understanding and effectively managing your IP rights, you put yourself in a much stronger position to make your invention a commercial and financial success.

How to Start an Invention Step 5: Market Analysis and Commercialization

Embarking on the Business Journey

how to start an invention

After solidifying your invention and securing your intellectual property, the next pivotal stage of how to start an invention is to bring your product to market. This phase, encompassing market analysis and commercialization, is where your invention transitions from an idea into a business. It involves understanding your target market, developing a business strategy, and executing a plan to sell or license your product.

Conducting Thorough Market Analysis

  1. Identifying Your Target Market: Understanding who your product is for is crucial. Analyze the demographics, needs, and preferences of your potential customers. Consider factors like age, gender, location, income level, and lifestyle.
  2. Analyzing Market Size and Potential: Evaluate the size of your target market and its potential for growth. This includes understanding the demand for your product, potential market share, and overall industry trends.
  3. Competitor Analysis: Identify and study your competitors. Understand their products, strengths, weaknesses, and market strategies. This will help you position your product more effectively and identify gaps in the market.
  4. Pricing Strategy: Determine an appropriate pricing strategy. This should consider production costs, competitor pricing, perceived value, and what your target market is willing to pay.
  5. SWOT Analysis: Conduct a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) to evaluate your product’s position in the market. This will help in formulating a robust market entry strategy.

Developing a Commercialization Strategy

  1. Manufacturing and Production: Determine how your product will be manufactured. Will you produce it yourself, or outsource to a manufacturer? Consider factors such as cost, quality control, scalability, and logistics.
  2. Distribution Channels: Decide on the channels through which you will sell your product. This could include online platforms, retail stores, direct sales, or distribution through partners.
  3. Marketing and Promotion: Develop a marketing plan to promote your product. This includes branding, advertising, social media campaigns, public relations, and potentially attending trade shows or other events.
  4. Sales Strategy: Develop a sales strategy that aligns with your market and product. This could involve direct sales, hiring a sales team, or using agents or distributors.
  5. Customer Support: Plan for customer support and service. This includes warranties, returns policies, customer service channels, and any after-sales support.

Licensing vs. Launching a Business

As an inventor, you have two primary paths for commercialization:

  1. Licensing: Licensing your invention to a company can be a simpler way to monetize your product without the complexities of running a business. You’ll receive royalties from the licensee in exchange for the rights to manufacture and sell your product.
  2. Launching a Business: Starting your own business to manufacture and sell your product gives you more control but involves more risk. This path requires a comprehensive understanding of business operations, including finance, management, and marketing.

Building a Team

Consider building a team or seeking partnerships. This can include individuals with business expertise, marketing skills, manufacturing knowledge, or sales experience. A strong team can fill gaps in your expertise and increase your chances of success.

Seeking Funding

Many inventions require significant capital for production and market entry. Explore funding options such as personal savings, loans, investors, crowdfunding, or grants. Each funding source has advantages and disadvantages, and the right choice will depend on your specific situation and needs.

Continuous Market Evaluation

Once your product is in the market, continuously evaluate its performance. Collect feedback, monitor sales, and keep an eye on industry trends. Be prepared to pivot your strategy, adapt your product, or explore new markets if necessary.


Market analysis and commercialization are where your invention meets the real world. This step requires a blend of market understanding, strategic planning, and business acumen. Whether you choose to license your invention or start a business, the goal is to effectively bring your product to the market and make it a success. By carefully planning and executing your commercialization strategy, you can turn your invention into not just a product, but a thriving business.

how to start an invention

How to Start an Invention: Conclusion

Inventing something new is a journey of discovery, creativity, and persistence. It’s not always easy, but for those who persevere, the rewards can be immense – not just financially, but in the satisfaction of seeing your idea come to life. By following these five steps in how to start an invention – ideation, sketching and design, prototype development, intellectual property protection, and market analysis and commercialization – you can turn your inventive dream into a reality. Remember, every great invention started as just an idea. Yours could be next.

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