Partnering with a big corporation can be a great way for a small business to expand its market and grow. But how do you find the companies to partner with? If your small business has innovative ideas in the consumer product arena, the four websites below could be just what you’re looking for.
From the minds behind the Emmy-winning PBS television show “Everyday Edisons” and the magazine Inventors Digest, this product development site works with Fortune 500 consumer product companies, manufacturers and retailers seeking inventions, and matches them with inventors or small businesses that can meet their needs. There are three ways to get involved with Edison Nation:
1. Live product searches. Big companies submit searches and if you have an idea that matches their needs, you can submit it through the secure system, which lets you upload documents, videos, sketches and more. The Edison Nation team reviews submissions and presents finalists to the Search sponsor. When I visited the site, Rawlings Sporting Goods, Skil Power Tools and SkyMall were among the companies sponsoring Searches.
2. The Edison Nation Innovation Fund. Edison Nation searches for new ideas, invests up to $250,000 in the best ones, and helps you develop the idea and bring it to market.
3. The Insider Licensing Program. If you have a patented or patent-pending product, Edison Nation will represent you and shop your idea around to industry partners.
All three options provide royalties if you are selected. There is a fee ranging from $25 to $100 to submit ideas; however, if you join the site’s Insider program ($9.25/month) you get a discount on submissions and access to community forums.
Global consumer products company Unilever has more than 6,000 people in 20 countries working in its R&D division alone—but it still needs you. Unilever is looking outside the company for new ideas in its core areas of homecare, personal care, ice cream, beverages, savoury, dressings and spreads products and brands.
Noting that “consumers are increasingly looking for products that mean they can 'do their bit' for the environment while at the same time helping them look good, feel good and get more out of life,” Unilever R&D has added sustainability to its goals when developing new products. Going forward, the company has committed to incorporating social, economic and environmental metrics in all of its innovations.
Many of Unilever’s innovations involve chemistry in food or personal care products, but that doesn’t mean collaborating is beyond the scope of a small business. For example, here you can read how Unilever developed the technology behind a new water purification device, but turned to collaboration with a partner to design the look and feel of the units. Visit the “Working With Us” page to learn more about what’s involved in collaborating with Unilever.
Speaking of food, Sara Lee is another company seeking innovation from outside. Visit the company’s Open Innovation site and sign up for a free account, then browse through “Needs” to see what kinds of ideas Sara Lee’s many brands are looking for. When I visited, ideas sought included a coffee cup that would help drinks stay foamy longer; paper packaging for specific types of foods; and technology to prevent buildup in food processing equipment.
If you have an innovative idea, technology or service solution that fits one of the needs, submit your innovation and you will be assigned to one of a team of innovation experts who will contact you about the idea in a “timely” fashion and, if your idea has passed muster, tell you what is required to move forward.
Food and beverage giant Kraft is looking for innovations in technology, products, packaging and processes. You can view the company’s needs in these four categories here. Kraft is looking for ideas that will make its products “better tasting, better for you, more convenient or more socially responsible.”
Kraft works with outside partners in several ways. If you’ve got a patented or patent-pending product, the company may license or buy your idea. Kraft also enters into joint venture agreements, often with Kraft paying for the cost of patenting the idea with the inventor still receiving exclusive rights to it. Finally, Kraft forms alliances or partnerships. Entrepreneurial company Terracycle has partnered with Kraft in its sustainability and recycling program. Kraft says that once you have submitted your idea, you’ll hear back from them in about eight weeks.
Keep in mind, these are big companies you’re dealing with, so be sure to take the necessary steps to protect your ideas before submitting anything.