Innovation Process

It’s challenging to distill the process for introducing a new product or service to the marketplace into a one-size fits all model, but here are some milestones that are common across most types of product or business development. Please keep in mind that your project’s process will be unique based on several factors, from the type of innovation you are developing to the kinds of customers you are targeting.

The most important thing to know is that learning, iteration, and continual planning will happen throughout, and UW–Madison’s Innovate Network is here to help.


Whether your innovation is a new way to solve a technical or a business problem, the ideation phase is truly dynamic. Rarely does the first iteration of an idea become the final product or service that has market acceptance.  Finding a viable market that pulls the innovation toward customers is the goal.

Key questions

  • Is there a market need?
  • Can your idea provide a viable solution to that need?
  • Can it offer a better solution than competitors?
  • Is the idea worth pursuing?
  • Is there a clear rationale for creating a startup vs. licensing to another company?
  • Can the right skills be assembled to execute successfully on this idea?

Key outputs of ideate phase

  • Validated market need(s)
  • Validated customer segment(s)
  • Validated value proposition(s)

Activities and Tools

  • Business model canvas
  • Value proposition
  • Customer segment
  • Get out of the building
  • Feedback from customers, partners, stakeholders
  • Iteration
  • Intellectual property (patent, etc.)


After the innovation has found a receptive market, planning begins to take shape. Planning is a decision-making process in which the building blocks of the business are constructed.  During the planning process, continued market feedback ensures the business model is viable.

Key questions

  • Who is the customer?
  • What will be the product or service?
  • How will it be produced?
  • How do you intend to get your product to your customer?
  • What is your business model? (i.e., how will you get paid?)
  • Is the addressable market large enough?
  • Is the venture worth the investment?

Key outputs of plan phase

  • Technology development plan
  • Intellectual property strategy
  • Regulatory plan
  • Reimbursement strategy (health care)
  • Initial business plan

Activities and tools

  • Business model canvas
  • Revenue model
  • Customer acquisition model
  • Routes to market
  • Strategic partnerships
  • Development and manufacturing model
  • Timelines and milestones
  • Financial pro-forma
  • Feedback from customers, partners, stakeholders


During the development stage, the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) or milestone is created. The MVP is the first product iteration delivered to a representative set of customers in the target market.  In fields with longer and more costly development timelines, a Minimum Viable Milestone (MVM) may take the place of the MVP. The development phase focuses on the minimum capabilities required to launch the initial product and secure startup funding.

Key questions

  • What is the plan to get from MVP/MVM to the launch-ready product or service?
  • What is the plan to scale the product or service?
  • What are the most appropriate sources of funding for your concept, and how can that be secured?

Key outputs of develop phase

  • Funding secured
  • MVP/prototype created, or MVM achieved
  • Pilot test(s) of product or service completed
  • Launch-ready product or service created
  • Regulatory clearance/approval secured

Activities and tools

  • Prototyping
  • Pre-launch funding (grants, angel/seed investors, accelerator programs)
  • Business development
  • Licensing / patenting
  • Legal agreements, contracts
  • Feedback from customers, partners, stakeholders


Development sets the stage for the Launch phase, where key product and sales milestones are validated with early adopters in the target market, and the startup secures the resources needed to ramp sales.

Key questions

  • Does anything need to change about the product or service itself?
  • Does anything else need adjustment (pricing model, marketing strategy, sales strategy, production strategy)?

Key outputs of launch phase

  • Iterations of business plan
  • Company formation*

*Note that company formation may happen earlier based on the project, technology, market, and other factors.

Activities and tools

  • Go to market funding
  • Production, marketing, sales
  • Measure results
  • Legal agreements, contracts
  • Reimbursement strategy (health care)
  • Feedback from customers, partners, stakeholders


During the launch phase, the startup proved it can compete. The grow phase accelerates the business across all dimensions to develop additional offerings, ramp sales and support, and attract customers in adjacent segments.

Key questions

  • What is next for the company?
  • Are there additional product segments and markets to add?
  • Where are you in the plan to return capital to your investors?

Key outputs of grow phase

  • Increased revenue generation

Activities and tools

  • Growth funding
  • Staffing
  • Reimbursement strategy (health care)
  • Feedback from customers, partners, stakeholders

For a more granular look at some of the key elements of the innovation process, check out the Entrepreneurship Research Guide, a collaborative effort between the Wisconsin School of Business and the Business Library.