Idea TestLab Gives New Inventors A Chance

The future is happening, or at least trying to, at 224 S. Allen St. That’s where the invention hub LaunchBox is hosting its second Idea TestLab for inventors with an idea who aren’t quite sure where to go next.

“If you have an idea, start here,” LaunchBox Chief Amplifier Lee Erickson said from her blue beanbag chair in the LaunchBox workspace. Erickson described the Idea TestLab as a period of mostly discovering where your idea is wrong to discover how the invention can be better.

The application for the four-week program closes at midnight on Wednesday, January 31. The program is free and open to the public, not just Penn State students. Individuals and teams can apply, and TestLab accepts approximately 10-15 inventions for the semester. The accepted inventors will attend a two-hour class once a week for four weeks starting in February.

Erickson said LaunchBox practices a lean start up principle. “Lean startup means, ‘How do you find what people want quickly and build what they want — not build what you think people want?’” she said.

Formerly an entrepreneurship professor at Penn State, Erickson believes the better inventions are ones that don’t simply throw a solution at potential customers, but actively investigate and research the problems customers might face.

This book by Eric Ries sits on one of LaunchBox’s bookshelves.

That’s called customer discovery. Erickson said it means you’ve made assumptions about a group of people who have a problem and need to validate that you’re right. “Go talk to them, not about your solutions, but about their problems,” she said.

Using LionPATH as an example, Erickson made her point. Instead of just saying it sucks, go out and ask people what their experience was like the last time they used it, she said.

If they tell you it crashed exactly when they needed it, or it was hard to find what they were looking for, or they asked back, ‘Is the University going to spend tons of money on a new website every couple of years?’, then you’re probably interviewing me, but it has benefits.

Once inventors find out what their potential customer’s problems really are, Erickson said they can adapt their inventions to better satisfy those needs. The iPhone, she pointed out, didn’t have copy and paste when it first came out. Getting an imperfect model out to customers is scary, but learning as you go seems to be the mantra of the Idea TestLab and LaunchBox as a whole. Just as the iPhone continuously adds new features when customers face new issues, inventions at LaunchBox are still building, too.

Erickson has her hands on all of LaunchBox’s programs; she runs the Idea TestLab with the help of Liz Kisenwether and Rick Weyer, who teach in the School of Engineering Design and Smeal College of Business, respectively. The program also receives help from the Dickinson School of Law, which offers legal advice to inventors on a number of problems.

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James Turchick

James is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism, James enjoys writing about anything weird and is deadly allergic to bees. Onward State people are very nice to him.

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