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Six Key Strategies for RFID Startups

Here's what entrepreneurs must do to turn their radio frequency identification inventions into commercially viable products.
By Samuel Greengard
Apr 06, 2014

These days, there is no shortage of innovative ideas for new radio frequency identification products and solutions. But getting an invention to market involves more than a clever concept and a brilliant design. RFID Journal spoke with several industry experts—as well as two companies that have brought their RFID products to market—to understand how best to approach the startup process and maximize the odds of success. Here are six key steps.

Identify Customers
It's one thing to develop a new RFID product. It's an entirely different thing to develop one that appeals to businesses or consumers. "An entrepreneur must have a very clear understanding of potential customers," says John Devlin, ABI Research's practice director of security and ID. "It's critical to know how a product would meet their needs, how they are likely to use it, and how the product is different from others."

There's a huge difference between technologies and solutions, says Paul Wallace, the managing director of Heritage Group, which invests in RFID health-care companies. The two are not synonymous, he says. "A lot of entrepreneurs and engineers become very attached to their technology. They need to spend some time in their customer's shoes to better understand the real pain points of their customers," Wallace explains. "Only then can they offer up a solution to address those needs."

"As you identify your customer for your product, make sure the RFID product offers true and quantifiable value," says Bernd Schoner, the author of the upcoming book The Tech Entrepreneur's Survival Guide: How to Bootstrap Your Startup, Lead Through Tough Times, and Cash in for Success (McGraw-Hill, May 2014). "Cool and interesting is not good enough," says Schoner, the founder of ThingMagic—which Trimble acquired in 2010—where he is now the VP of business development.

"Over the past decade, a lot of money has been invested into RFID, and many startups and large corporations have contributed to the RFID ecosystem," Schoner says. "Don't try to reinvent the wheel, but use the elements and products that are already commercially available. You should be in the business of enabling RFID systems and solutions by filling the gaps between those existing elements. I believe there are great businesses to be built leveraging past work and investments in our industry."

To understand the interplay between a product and potential customers, it is vital to conduct market research, develop a prototype and engage in trials and testing. John McLear, who developed the NFC Ring, which unlocks smartphones and doors and operates lights and tablets, says the intersection of product development and customers is critical. As he studied the ways in which people handled and used the ring, design and specifications changed. "In some cases, it took months to dissect a problem or challenge and rework things in a customer-centric way," he notes. "We learned so much from early adopters. They gave us feedback we couldn't have gotten if we had gone straight to retail."

Develop a Strong Business Plan
Most RFID entrepreneurs require startup capital. But before you can begin seeking investors, you must write a business plan. It is imperative to develop a plan that addresses the specifics of how the RFID solution will provide features and capabilities that do not already exist, or how the solution changes things in today's fast-moving marketplace.

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