What Happens When An Idea Has Too Many Potential Markets?


A great idea can be a double-edged sword. A real innovation may have dozens of applications, so it’s easy for developers—and investors—to get excited about all the possibilities.

It’s also easy to get over excited.

Many good ideas have failed because they were victims of too much opportunity. The inclination with a new idea that could impact numerous markets is to take on several at once. And while this can sometimes be a sound strategy to block competitors, it can also dilute effectiveness. Sometimes to the point that the idea doesn’t succeed in any market.

To avoid this trap, it’s important to stay strategic—and focused—as you roll out a new idea.

Assess The Opportunities

While a new technology or product may offer promise in multiple areas, proper research is still the litmus test to determine which to pursue first—and maybe which to not pursue at all. Of course, consider market size, regulatory issues, market familiarity with the idea or merchandise, market seasons, competition and other factors.

But also consider how each market matches up to your organization and its skills. A tough-to-enter market that has up-front research requirements may still be a better fit than an easier, less lucrative one if your company has exceptional research capabilities or capacity.

Likewise, if there are obstacles to entry, such as lack of experience within your group, other markets may be easier to penetrate.

Partner To Acquire Specific Expertise

Even if you have a great new invention to market, there’s no point in re-inventing the wheel to obtain specific market expertise, if you can find it elsewhere. Emergent Technologies spends much of its time finding matches between promising new technologies and firms with the expertise to guide entry into new market areas. The partnerships we create often provide benefits beyond the initial marketing goal.

For example, our recent pairing of PhosImmune and PureMHC to discover and market antibodies that mimic T cell receptors matches innovative technologies in two arenas with firms that have proven experience in bringing similar technologies to market success.

By working together, the two firms can potentially accelerate the timeline for placing the developed antibodies into market areas where each has experience and specialized talents. And the partnership provides extra credibility for each firm because of the other’s value-added capabilities.

Think Not Just Function, But Also Brand

In the 1960s, a DuPont researched named Stephanie Kwolek was working on a project to find a lightweight, strong fiber for use in tire belts to replace steel. Kwolek’s creation, Kevlar, was five times stronger than steel and very light, opening up the possibilities for its use in a spectrum of markets.

Which is what ultimately happened. Kevlar is now used in body armor, ship hulls, high performance sails, drum heads, tires, and scores of industrial applications. But it wasn’t always that way.

When first developed in 1973, Kevlar leapfrogged its original application of tire belts and became part of a military testing program to create lightweight bullet and shrapnel proof body armor. After several years of testing, Kevlar became the go-to fiber for armor built for the military and for law enforcement.

The original market took several years to develop, but it proved to be a powerful starting point. Once Kevlar had a reputation for stopping bullets, it was a pretty easy brand sell to convince innovators in other markets that Kevlar was the material to consider for strength and weight reduction. Myriad other applications flourished.

Know When To Stop

Another challenge with numerous market opportunities is knowing when not to pursue an introduction. If a market isn’t large enough, or if it removes capacity from a more profitable application, it may not be worth pursuing.

For example, one component manufacturer who produced short runs of specialty components for customers discovered that it became more profitable by eliminating that business altogether.  The company’s customers continued to buy long run mainstream SKUs, but looked to their competitors for the shorter run products—effectively tying up their competitors’ production capacity.

What do you want to build today?