I've got several ideas for new products that I think might fill various gaps in the market. However, I'm unsure where to start. I'm not an engineer, nor do I have access to facilities to create prototypes for any of these ideas.
The only way around this that I can think of is to go to a large company that makes similar products and ask them if they are interested in my idea. But of course, since all I have is the idea, once they know what it is, good or bad, there's no point in me any more.
Does anyone have any ideas about where to go or how to go about getting prototypes built, etc.?
My question relates specifically to the UK.
Thanks for all the answers (especially the comment about Hackspace - although I'm not near London), although I think the question may have appeared slightly misleading. Many people said: "Ideas are fine but you have to invest in producing one once you have a customer!". Okay, so say I have a customer lined up and I have money to invest, how do I get a prototype built? Where would you go for this?
Let's say, for example, that I've just had an idea for a super efficient bicycle or something. How do I actually go about going to a place and getting one manufactured as a prototype?
Getting Started Ideas UK Prototype
Your prototype will probably be the most expensive single unit you build (especially if it requires molded parts made from custom molds). You will have to source each component of your product (like the bike would have a frame, tires, seat, hardware, etc.) from various vendors (useful exercise so you can talk about bulk/production pricing while you sort out the single unit price for prototyping). But I do think for most manufactured goods the best route is contacting companies that already make individual components or similar goods with the same raw materials/machinery that your parts require (for example, if you need a wood part finished on a lathe, you could contact custom carpenters, etc. who would have the skill and equipment).
It depends what you are building, but sometimes a 3D model is enough to prototype a design. There are 3D modelers and animators who specialize in product visualization and can create to-scale, very realistic simulations for you to present and review without physically constructing your first unit. Might be a good option if you expect your design to change or would like to demonstrate variations easily (showing the bike in many colors/decals and with various options would be easier via 3D modeling than trying to prototype all variations). You could achieve the same flexibility by photographing you single model and photoshopping the variations as well.
Good luck, and hopefully that is a better answer for the type of prototyping you are doing (my original answer assumed some type of web application/web site).
Sadly, I've looked into this for developing custom in car fascias for custom fully featured in car computer systems. When dealing with things like getting moulds made because you're not getting something mass produced, but rather a prototype, it can be very expensive and I mean expensive.
You are better off outsourcing to manufacturers in China and even places like India which do a great job at a low price. I was quoted a price starting at $10,000 for getting some plastic fascias made up because direct plastic mould injection is extremely expensive, plus you have to pay for a CAD artist to draw up the design of your product to actually make into a product.
My advice, outsource as much as you can. There are many manufacturers out there available from a Google search, http://alibaba.com might even help you out, it has a few manufacturers and suppliers for a multitude of things.
A very difficult question to answer, but one of the best advice I have ever heard on this is by Chris Dixon http://cdixon.org/2010/03/14/developing-new-startup-ideas/ I really like the part about which filters to apply while listening to a set of people.
Moreover, from a more personal experience, it is always the execution that is much more important than the idea.
The only fuel an entrepreneur has is passion, and if you are really passionate about your idea, I am sure you will know where to start :-)
The start point isn't the producers (who could be your route to market or your competition), it's the customers. Think about the problem you're trying to solve, think about who has that problem and go engage!
Depending on the type of product, a sketch (or word sketch) ought to be possible. You just need enough to extract some learning - and where you have design choices, to start to understand how you can make those choices to maximise the end customer perception of benefit.
If you've found gaps in the market, it's also worth thinking about why those gaps are there. Is it an oversight? Are you on some kind of market boundary, with different players (or distribution models) either side? Are you taking an established technology into a new market? You need both to prove the gap is a gap in supply not in demand, and to see where it's true that you're best positioned to exploit it.
And as you have multiple ideas, this kind of investigation is essential as you choose where to focus your efforts.
Oh, and check out http://london.hackspace.org.uk/ and http://hacman.org.uk/ - there are people and resources to help you with the physical realisation of your ideas.
I agree with the other advice here. This is how I try to convince people to think about it: assume you developed your idea(s) and just spent 3 months to a year coding it, polishing it. What would you do next? Go and sell it of course.
Ok, then do that first and see how it goes. You will have just saved yourself a year of development.
Your objection: but I don't have anything to sell yet. Fine. Not a big deal at all. If you have reservations about pitching something that doesn't exist at all, be flexible and tell prospective customers that you are working on it (it's in "alpha"). In any case, you'll find out that most customers don't even make it far enough to ask for a demo or details. And that's exactly the information you need to gather today. Stuff like "Actually, XYZ is not so much a problem for us, but if your product could do X, call me again".
Bluntly speaking : Ideas are a dime a dozen. If you really believe in your idea, fork out some cash to hire somebody to build it and show there is a demand for it.
Then go out and seek investors. Unless you're very well connected and have a track record of turning water to wine, nobody will listen to you.