Posted: May 1, 2014, 4:05 p.m. EDT
By Clay Jackson
Great ideas for new pet products often die because of a lack of money, know-how or both in bringing them to fruition.
Enter WayFounder, a venture capital group, launched on the premise of helping "nontrepreneurs,” as Damon D’Amore, founder and chief executive officer of the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based group, calls those with great ideas but limited means of realizing them.
To get the ideas rolling in, WayFounder unveiled the first in a series of nationwide contests designed to vet the best ideas and provide a winner (or winners) with seed money and guidance.
The inaugural WayFounder Spring 2014 Competition will focus on acquiring consumer product and mobile app ideas in the categories of home and garden, baby and parenting, pet and wild card (for ideas unrelated to the other categories).
D’Amore chose "pets” as one of the categories in his organization’s inaugural contest because as the owner of a chocolate Labrador, he recognizes pet ownership for what it is—a hotbed of creativity.
"There are a lot of pet owners with first-hand knowledge of pain points, or challenges, in need of creative solutions,” D’Amore said.
Ideas from prospective pet product or app inventors shouldn’t be hard to come by.
The innovation in the pet industry is well-known, with hundreds of new, first-time products showing up every year at large industry trade shows like SuperZoo and the Global Pet Expo.
"These folks have great product or app ideas, and some are even using homemade prototypes, as fully developed products may not be available,” D’Amore explained.
To his point, there were 3,000 new product launches at this year’s Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., according to Andrew Darmohraj, executive vice president of the American Pet Products Association, the Greenwich, Conn.-based organization responsible for the show.
Brett Blumstein, a Southern California attorney, submitted his idea "for a way for friendly dogs to be able to ... have play dates with other friendly dogs” after hearing about the contest from a friend.
"I live in an urban area where people with dogs sometimes walk across the street from each other when they see a dog coming because they foresee a potential problem,” Blumstein said. "I would like to minimize this problem.”
He admits his idea would be on the "backburner” if not for WayFounder.
"I don't have the time to move my idea forward on its own, and WayFounder is a great avenue to have someone competent implement my idea,” he said.
Blumstein’s contest submission includes photos and a general business plan.
"As someone who has a dog breed that has a bad reputation,” Blumstein said, "I would like my idea to come into existence so I can find play partners for my dog.”
While D’Amore’s concept may sound similar to the crowdfunding phenomenon, it differs on several fronts:
• Crowdfunding sites are designed for entrepreneurs to raise money to create products and build businesses themselves, provided they get funded. WayFounder "sources ideas from people who cannot or choose not to take the risk to start a business themselves,” said D’Amore. They would rather have professionals with proven track records take their ideas to market on their behalf.
• On most crowdfunding sites, ideas are posted for the public to view. WayFounder idea submissions are private and only viewable by the judges, thereby reducing entrants’ concerns of having their ideas stolen.
• Instead of asking crowd members to fund a particular business idea, WayFounder and its investors commit all of the capital necessary for winning ideas to be brought to market.
The WayFounder Spring 2014 Competition winner(s) will be announced three to four weeks after the contest closes June 8.
WayFounder is planning on running three or four similar contests per year.
Those with pet product or app ideas who miss this go-round will be able to submit their ideas in the future in the wildcard category, which will be a fixed category in future WayFounder competitions.
The best overall idea(s) in its spring contest will be awarded a cash prize of $10,000, given a commitment to spend up to $50,000 to bring the product idea to market and royalties.
If a selected product exhibits the promise of scaling up into a product line or even spawning an entire new category of its own, WayFounder agrees to commit up to $250,000 to hire an "executive entrepreneur,” or a combination founder/CEO with the necessary experience in that specific category to take the business to the next level.
For the inaugural round, nontrepreneurs are encouraged to visit the WayFounder’s "Competition” page at WayFounder.com to set up their own user profile, which acts as a "dashboard” where they can post a written description of their idea, drawings, designs, prototypes, photos and videos, and even a complete business plan of the problem the product solves.
"The more information that WayFounder has to judge an idea, the better chance it has of becoming a finalist, so we encourage folks to get creative and present the WayFounder judges with as much detail as possible,” D’Amore said.
Those with ideas already patented are encouraged to submit them, as well; WayFounder takes the position that patented ideas "provide additional confidence in our evaluation of the potential size of a WayFounder business.”
For a $10 entry fee, contestants can submit up to four ideas, one per category, no later than midnight on June 8.
Given D’Amore’s television background (he’s the broadcast producer of the "The Apprentice” and "Undercover Boss”), one can’t but wonder if the WayFounder concept might someday make it to the small screen.
"At this time I can’t speak to any details, but stay tuned,” he said.
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