Why targeted amounts of money can have big impact on innovation.
If you’re an innovator, you know how challenging it can be to fund an idea. To help, the Brigham Digital Innovation Hub, supported by the Schlager Family, is offering two $25,000 awards to help, Brigham researchers clinicians and staff to advance their early-stage digital innovation ideas that might have commercial potential.
Since announcing the call for grant applications, I have had a few conversations with innovators wondering if they should apply. To my surprise, the questions weren’t about eligibility, but instead, what, if anything, they could meaningfully do with a $25k budget. Those conversations inspired me to write this blog post.
There are many ways to use $25k to advance an idea. Though the suggestions below are more directly aimed at doctors and researchers who are applying for our grant, I believe the advice applies to all early-stage innovators.
The bottom line: Targeted use of funds to quickly test an early idea has great value to advancing your idea, and can help you hit a key milestone that will verify that your idea might have commercial potential and warrants further investment, resources and support. Below are three ways to use $25k to buy your time, purchase tools, or bring in expertise each with specific examples or actions that can be taken.
3 Things to Do with $25,000
1. PROTOTYPE (From your head to paper):
You have a great idea, but now it is time to move that idea from a concept in your head to an artifact that gives others a sense of what your solution would look like, act like or do. This is a critical step for all innovation projects – for an idea isn’t an innovation.
During the process of having to figure out how to reduce your idea to practice, you will learn a lot. In the process people will be able to provide advice, and you will really start to be able to test the idea. A whiteboard sketch, Proto.io mock-up, or simple PowerPoint wireframe are powerful prototyping tools which can get you a tremendous amount of feedback on your idea.
Examples of prototypes include the following:
- Digital (software or apps):
- Wireframes (basic sketches which convey the idea, but aren't intended to look like the final product)
- Mock-ups (high-fidelity visual representations of what a final product could be)
- Low-to-medium fidelity models (via 3D printing or other tools)
- Prototype algorithm (test feasibility using a sample dataset)
- Prototype workflow (demonstrate how to integrate new technology)
2. COLLECT OR ANALYZE DATA:
Often a unique data set or large data set are the foundation of a digital innovation.…but that’s because they are hard to get. The competitive advantage of a clinical or research innovator working at an academic medical center (AMC) is that they have access to data that others don’t have.
Gathering data from various databases, cleaning it and analyzing it isn't easy. Building a useable data set that will be at the core of your digital solution is critical in showing that your idea has the potential to be commercially viable. Below are just some ideas that would be useful when investing in your data:
- Hire someone to pull data from available sources, clean the data, and run initial analysis to test if you have a sufficiently good data set to advance or ID what other data needs you have.
- Cover the cost of IT support needed to build data sets, or cover the cost of the software for analysis.
- Targeted use of consultants, or other resources to help you develop algorithms, conduct advanced analysis, or build infrastructure to test, train, or further develop commercially.
3. TEST, TEST, TEST:
Your idea is great, but it could be built on a lot of assumptions, and there are many solutions to any problem. Are you sure that you are solving a problem that enough people care about, or if those people will pay enough money for the solution?
Innovation is a process of guess-and-check. We think we have identified the right problem, we think we have a solution, we think that there is a market and we think it can be commercially viable with our business models. However, you won’t know for sure until you try it and test it. See below for various ways to test your idea:
Conduct small focus groups.
Collect a fresh set of data to test your algorithm against.
Run a small pilot.
Do a survey of different stakeholders.
Test a new workflow.
Hire someone to help with the above projects.
I have personally seen the power of putting seed funding to work: as a grad student I won a $5k grant, and I used that to build a really rough prototype. With that and a bunch of hard work, a year later I won a $50k competition and a $16k grant. A year later I spun the project out of the university and raised over $250k. Over the last three years at the iHub, we have seen early ideas rapidly advance with grants of $10k or less, and some of those ideas have spun out to new companies.
Ultimately, this is the start to a long journey. Targeted amounts of money are key to demonstrating what you need to be competitive for larger funding opportunities to help your idea really take off. The key is to keep showing that you are making progress, demonstrating value, reducing risk, and proving that your idea could be a commercial success.
Innovation Strategy Manager