In recent years, crowdfunding has become a proven model for entrepreneurs to fund the development of new ideas into prototypes and find initial buyers for the resulting products. Combined with open-source hardware and software, crowdfunding is helping to drive the emergence of small, innovative companies run by design engineers who have turned into entrepreneurs. This phenomenon was discussed in a previous blog.
With crowdfunding, open-source developers can now monetize ideas themselves. Open-source participants can enter business on their own terms or expand the influence of existing engineering firms. But designing a prototype requires a different skill set than marketing, manufacturing, and delivering a product. As the previous blog points out, “many open-source entrepreneurs struggle to release their products, as they undergo a forcible education in the realities of the marketplace.”
Crowd Supply Expands Crowdfunding into Commercialization
Crowd Supply is a leading crowdfunding organization that appllies a holistic approach to the funding burden and addresses the manufacturing and marketing challenges faced by entrepreneurs. Unlike other crowdfunding platforms that only focus on funding, Crowd Supply brings together designers who have embraced the ethos of open source, as well as experts in manufacturing, marketing, and finance, all underpinned by technology-savvy backers.
The company and its president, Josh Lifton, are featured in the new Engineering Big Ideas series, presented by Mouser Electronics and celebrity engineer Grant Imahara. In the episode, Lifton and Imahara take a more in-depth look at the available processes and resources that shape and guide an idea from concept to reality (see video below).
Crowd Supply helps ease the pain of product commercialization by combining resources, support, and a route to market all in one place, like a business incubator. By tapping into pools of small contributions from interested backers, entrepreneurs and creators can see their product idea come to life. Backers also provide a feedback loop to validate, or fine-tune, an idea before designers commit to manufacturing, providing crucial market research and insight that help improve the odds of success. Backers may see things that might have been missed during design, or features that may boost a product’s marketability.
When an entrepreneur signs up with Crowd Supply, they open the door to a vast array of specialist resources. The first stop in the launch process is the Product Launch Form, which walks the entrepreneur through a range of commercialization considerations, such as supporting documentation, competition, openness, and the current status of prototypes. A Crowd Supply campaign manager then evaluates the entry to see if the project idea has all of the necessary elements to likely succeed with its network of funders. Crowd Supply provides feedback and guidance on other key issues that might impact launching the product, such as finding a suitable manufacturer and determining the fulfillment channel.
The funding phase then opens up the idea to the community of backers, who can validate if a strong need for the product exists, and suggest changes to the product specification and how the entrepreneur can make the product more desirable. Crowd Supply manages the pledges from backers. Once the funding goal is reached, and the product manufactured, Crowd Supply manages all of the details of fulfillment: logistics, regional differences, tax requirements, and so on. This is a key area of expertise that helps entrepreneurs turn into innovative market players.
Crowd Supply also streamlines the process by which customers are encouraged to file field reports on their use of the products. Field reports are a valuable way of encouraging others to buy the product and can help establish the foundation of design improvements and new product ideas.
Engineering Big Ideas
Mouser’s latest series in the Empowering Innovation Together program, Engineering Big Ideas, gives viewers more insight into Crowd Supply and how it enables creators and designers to bring their ideas to life. In his visit to the Crowd Supply headquarters, Imahara discusses with Lifton what constitutes a good idea and the evaluation process to see if an idea is suitable for manufacturing:
Mouser has a long history of supporting innovators and entrepreneurs of electronics-based designs with products, ranging from components and modules to single-board computers. Crowd Supply designers and entrepreneurs can also look into Mouser’s Technical Resource Center, which offers technical articles, how-to guides, engineering-focused eBooks, and a plethora of new product information. And the company’s Bench Talk for Design Engineers blog hosts topical and informative articles on a wide range of subjects from a community of engineers, suppliers, and industry specialists.
Mouser also acts as a fulfillment channel for many of the product designs created by Crowd Supply entrepreneurs, further extending the reach of an entrepreneur’s innovation.