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Assistive Technology Transfer Update


Title: Supply-Push Program
Author: James A Leahy
Published: 2001
Publication: Assistive Technology Transfer Update: Vol. 3 Issue 2 (Summer)


A commercialization packet is an integral factor in assisting a product in entering the marketplace. This article further explains the importance of a commercialization packet and applies it to upcoming assistive technology products.

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In our everyday lives, we all come across products that we purchase that just don't meet our expectations. These products just seem to lack something or are difficult to use. As a consumer you wonder if the manufacturer ever spoke with their prospective customers about the features the new product should possess, or if they even tried the product themselves before entering it in the marketplace. Predictably, the normal product life cycle on these products is brief and the companies just can't understand what went wrong.

This spring we had the opportunity to demonstrate to a major corporation the benefit of focused consumer input in the design of a new product.
As part of the T2RERC commercialization process, we routinely run concept evaluation and refinement focus groups to bring the consumer focus to devices we are attempting to market. Our consumer team, the Western New York Independent Living Project or ILP, is a consumer advocacy group. The ILP has consumers with disabilities evaluate the submitted device, and determine the degree of need for it, and how well the submitted device performs the function for which it is intended. They bring the consumer perspective to bear as to what features and qualities the submitted device may be lacking to make it a useful device that truly fulfills the needs of the consumers.

Example 1: The kitchen appliance
For the focus groups for that corporation, the ILP recruited people with disabilities, the elderly, and people from all households who had the task of performing the function that this product addressed. The company provided three different concept models of the product, a new household kitchen appliance, for demonstration at the focus groups. (For competitive reasons, our clients' names and the specific details of the devices discussed cannot be disclosed at this time.) The focus groups were video-conferenced back to the corporation's headquarters so that core marketing and technical people could interact in real time with the groups. The corporate people were able to view the groups, and directly, through our facilitator, Douglas Usiak, ask follow-up questions on points, comments or design improvement suggestions made by the group.

The feedback we received on our focus group process and on the way our facilitator ran the groups was very positive. The corporation felt the groups were very worthwhile and informative. In fact, as of this writing, the corporation's engineering department is utilizing the input from our consumer groups in redesigning the product. After further refinement and consumer testing, the corporation hopes to have the product ready for introduction at the 2002 International Housewares Show in Chicago.

Example 2: The telephone accessory
On another front, the T2RERC is using consumer focus groups to design a new telephone accessory product. The design suggestions and criteria harvested from three concept definition focus groups that were run on the device have been passed on to an electronics manufacturer for generation of a pre-production prototype. Upon receipt of that prototype, the T2RERC will then run a 'beta' focus group on the device. The beta group will be composed of participants from the original groups who were invited back to evaluate the prototype and to ensure that all the expectations of the consumers were met.

The purpose of this consumer involvement, and of our detailed technical and marketing reports, is to provide licensing companies with as much information as possible to assist them in their decision whether to license the new devices with which we are working, or bring them into the marketplace.

Why inventors need the T2RERC
Historically, the profile of the Assistive Technology (AT) industry is one of small to medium-sized companies serving small, or in some cases, niche markets. Presenting new products, developed by outside sources, to these companies is difficult and often fraught with many barriers that must be overcome.

New product submissions to these companies must compete against internally developed products with internal corporate champions. These products already have corporate time and money invested. The internal champions of these products know the perilous route a developing product must take through the company. They possess the ability, through experience, to navigate the corporate product development cycle, overcoming barriers and answering the questions and concerns generated by that company's internal bureaucracy.

Many times, these companies will travel the safe route and place their research and development dollars in refining their current product. Here they are investing in a proven commodity, something they developed and are marketing. It is much easier to justify the expense to build market share on a current moneymaking product than it is to justify this expense on fulfilling an unmet need in the marketplace with a new unproven product.

We feel our commercialization packages – anchored by consumer input on the need for the device, consumers' suggested design refinements, and their projected price point and purchase intent for the device – allow our devices to compete on a more-even footing with internally developed and championed corporate products. The goal of our work is to assist licensing companies in bringing new and truly useful products for the disabled to the marketplace.

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