Inventors, Innovators, and Entrepreneurs - Which One Are You?

December 07, 2020

Inventors,, innovators, and entrepreneurs all work together for tech transferIn the world of technology transfer, we find three key roles: the inventors, the innovators, and the entrepreneurs. Each bring a set of skills to the table. Working together, they can release successful new products into society. Most often they are different people. In some rare cases, someone comes along with the combined skills, and successes follow.

Read also: What is Technology Transfer?

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Are you an inventor, innovator, entrepreneur, or a combination of them? Let's take a look at the skills and responsibilities of each one, and learn about the part each role plays in commercialization.


If you're an inventor, you're part of the first step in technology transfer. You take research and build it into an idea that is testable.

  • Advance knowledge
  • Demonstrate capability in the lab
  • Documents research and testing
  • Publish results 
  • Iterate and optimize


If you're an innovator, you take the inventor's idea and expand it into a product that works.

  • Prototype inventions
  • Lock down materials and processes
  • Scale-up and apply standard practices and quality measures
  • Test to validate performance across the spectrum of operational scenarios
  • Craft the Minimum Viable Product


If you're the entrepreneur, you take the product to market. But there's more behind-the-scenes operations you deal with as well.

  • Apply tailored business practices
  • Ensure low cost with good quality
  • Plans marketing to customers
  • Develop cost models and business plans
  • Synchronize execution

Each Role Plays an Important Part in Commercialization

What would this world be like without inventors? Those who think outside the box, refuse to be deterred from finding the solution to a vexing problem, and who create new capabilities and opportunities? As an inventor, you advance knowledge and understanding. You work diligently to demonstrate new technologies and the art of the possible. You work tirelessly to iterate, refine, and optimize your solutions.

Let's look at a classic example of a great inventor. Thomas Edison is famous for finding numerous ways not to make a lightbulb. Once he made one with a carbon filament, he kept looking for one that was longer lasting, brighter, etc.

However, a technology that stays in the laboratory can’t provide the potential benefits to consumers, businesses, and society. That’s where the innovators come in. As an innovator, you focus on finding what the customer wants and giving it to them. You pull technology out of the laboratory and into prototype development. You run the prototypes through rigorous testing to verify that it will work reliably under all conditions, leading to product revisions. You focus on customer needs and how to create a viable product to meet them.

Most new products fail because the majority of consumers don’t want it. A number of technologies attempted solve congested city traffic and parking troubles. In the end, the inner-city scooters provided the unique solution that customers wanted. One company logged 10 million rides in the first year of operation! Really knowing your customer and staying focused is key.

Once you have a product that meets the customers’ expectations, it’s time to sell. The entrepreneur is the expert in introducing new products at the right time and right cost. As an entrepreneur, you refine the production processes to keep quality up and costs down. You start by creating or solidifying the marketing channels to early adopters. Next, you market to the early majority where the product can thrive. You develop the cost models to provide a positive rate of return to recover the investment that has gone into getting the product this far.

Inventors and innovators need entrepreneurs to make their products successful. Nicola Tesla was a famous inventor that brought us alternating current. But he died in poverty because he gave up the royalties for AC for a lump sum. He was a great inventor, but not the best entrepreneur. 

Effective technology transition requires inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs, whether they are the same person or different people. Each aspect of the product life cycle needs focused attention by those with the appropriate skills and experience to be successful. Remember rule #1 – do your customers need or want it enough to pay the price?

Read also: 5 Success Strategies to Secure SBIR and STTR Funding

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