step 3: turn ideas into projects

choose the right pathway

The results of the idea generation phase are ideally a set of promising ideas that you are interested in further exploring. First things first: which ideas excite you most? Once you have selected the ideas that you want to work with, how should you take it from there? As a first step in developing your ideas into a R&D project, you need to decide how to bring your ideas to life. We propose three different pathways that allow you to work with the ideas in practice

When choosing your pathway, consider the nature of the idea, your competencies and your own ambitions.

Some ideas may fit more to a traditional research project (e.g. testing the effect of certain chemicals in a lab) than others (e.g. introducing a more efficient food-processing chain). Each pathway requires distinct qualities: if you love data and analytics, a traditional research project might be a good fit, whereas if you’re a risk-taker, then following the business track could work well. Even if you do not yet possess the qualities, remember to challenge yourself and do not choose the easy route. It is important to choose a pathway that fits with your ambitions. Do you want to advance in the world of academia? Do you wish to see how your ideas apply in practice? Or do you aspire to explore your entrepreneurial spirit and explore whether there’s money in your idea?

When do you choose a research project?

If you consider the idea that you’ve come up with is relevant for a wider audience and that studying this closely would be for the greater good, then choosing this as a research project at university may fit best. It is also a good fit when researching your idea involves a lot of (lab) equipment and resources that are more easily accessible at university. Depending on the current phase of your studies you, it may also be compulsory for you to write a research thesis, or you have the ambition to enrol in a PhD program in the near future: choosing this as a research project could serve as a basis for this.

When do you choose product and service innovation?

This pathway is particularly interesting for students and faculty members due to the immediate exposure to the day-to-day operations of a business. Through choosing this pathway, you closely work with the problem owner (the business) to tailor the idea so that it fits with the most pressing issues. It is a good fit when your ideas can help to run the business more efficiently. As a student, choosing this pathway is also a good fit when you need to complete an internship (with a company) as part of your studies. For faculty members, testing your ideas within the context of a business allows you to connect with current trends and technologies. It also helps to build your network outside of the academic world, which may be relevant for future employment opportunities.

When do you choose a business start-up?

Perhaps you are at an advanced stage of your studies and are thinking about starting your own business instead of seeking employment, or you are a teacher who wants to become more practical. The ideas emerging from the idea-generating phase may involve developing a completely new product or taking existing products or services to a new level. Others – including the problem owner – may be willing to pay for this. If you choose this pathway, you adopt the role of the entrepreneur and focus on testing the idea with its potential customers and developing a business model around the idea. You can do this alone or in collaboration with others who possess the skills needed to turn the idea into a business.

Option 1: Turn your idea into a research project

If the result of your idea generation process is a well-formulated research question that requires further investigation, the logical next step is to develop a research proposal and look for funding to implement it. A research proposal is a concise and coherent summary of your proposed research that sets out the central research question that you intend to address, outlines the general area of study within which your research falls – referring to the current state of knowledge on the topic – and demonstrates the originality of your proposed research.

step 1: Create a project one-pager

In order to conduct your research, you will need funding. However, in order to find the right resources, you first need to have a clear idea of what you need to implement your project. For this purpose, you should create a one-pager for your project in which you highlight:

  • The research question and hypothesis (what you expect to discover or achieve with your project).

  • The necessary resources, including technical, financial and human resources.

  • The proposed steps of the research, including a timeline for each of them.  

 step 2: Find appropriate funding sources

Once you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve with your research project, you can now look for funding opportunities. These vary quite a lot depending on your field and level of research, your country or region and the size and scope of the project. If you don’t know where to go, start by looking around you. Ask colleagues, professors, other researchers you know, post about it on your social media… You can also look for local and national innovation programs, as well as international programs for which you can apply.  

step 3: Go – no go decision

Once you have a good overview of available funding, you will need to decide which ones fit your situation best. This means looking at eligibility criteria (can you apply?) as well as other considerations: Is the scope or size of the fund suitable for me? What are my chances of success? Can I write a winning proposal in time for the deadline?

Step 4: Writing a proposal

Depending on the funding source, the structure of the proposal might differ but, in principle, there are few building blocks that you can expect, that we neatly organised in the Table of Contents for you!

If your organisation is looking to improve staff’s capability to write writing winning proposals, MDF organises open entry and tailor-made courses on proposal writing at various offices around the world. Learn all about it here:

option 2: work on a new product or service

When it comes to product or service development, there is certainly no one-size-fits-all approach as the process strongly depends on the type of product or service you’re working on. How far developed is it? Is it still an idea? Is there a prototype? Or will you work on improving an existing product or service? Nevertheless, there are many known and tested approaches that you can use in planning and developing a new product or service. New product development (NPD) is a known concept with a vast amount of literature available online.


New Product Development

A business and engineering concept used to describe the complete process of developing and bringing a new product to the market.

There are also other very useful sources of information and inspiration to guide your product development process. Here we’ve gathered a selection of useful sources for you to get started:

Option 3: develop a business model

So, you want to turn your idea(s) into your own business: that’s great! But before going out and opening your own store or stepping into a bank for a loan, it is important to ensure that your idea has a viable business model. After taking the following steps to identify and build a realistic business model, you can take the (untested) idea to incubators, investors or others who can help to get your business off the ground.

Step 1: Look again at the market

To build your business model, you should go back to the beginning and study the market to assess the marketability of your business idea. This means going through the three steps that we explained earlier (macro, industry and organisation levels) from the perspective of your idea or (future) business. If you conducted a market study at the beginning of the process, there are likely many things you will be able to re-use. So start from there! If you have limited understanding of the market, see this as the first opportunity to look for valuable information about your (future) industry and clientele to better position your (potential) business.

Step 2: build a business model

A business model is a central element to any new and existing business. It captures how an organisation creates, delivers and captures (economic and social) value and should be revisited on a regular basis to validate it and ensure that it remains current. Among the many tools and methods out there to work out a business model, there is one that we particularly like: the Business Model Canvas (BMC)!


business model canvas

A visual chart describing a company’s or product’s value proposition, infrastructure, customers and finances. The model – invented in 2008 by Alexander Osterwalder – provides a single reference model that allows conceptualising (almost) any business or product.

If you want to try out the BMC, you can use the Canvanizer, an online platform that not only explains in detail how it works but also allows you to build your business model online for free!

Step 3: Prepare a financial case

Besides describing the costs and revenue streams that your business expects to generate using the BMC, it is also important to work out the numbers and look at how you expect them to evolve over the years. What are the setup costs? The costs of raw materials? Production? Distribution? Marketing? Staff? How much income do you need to generate to cover them? How do you expect the business to grow? Going through these questions will help you to not only assess the financial viability of the business but also identify the investment needed to get the business off the ground. There are many financial case templates available online, and we have made a selection for you!

Step 4: get support!

You might think that you can do everything on your own, but (almost) no one is good at e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g! And besides, no matter where you are in the world, there are probably many organisations that support entrepreneurs and product development. In many cases, universities have incubation programs for aspiring entrepreneurs trying to develop new products and services. If this is the case in your area, start there! In other areas, there are incubation programs financed by international donors or even banks. There are also multiple investment readiness programs that help entrepreneurs to get ready to talk to financiers and help you to sharpen your business model and financial case.