A Lesson Learned for Nontrepreneurs: Ideas are Worthless

Guest post by Mary Juetten, Founder & CEO Traklight

(Image Courtesy of Gratisography)

Ideas that are left undeveloped and kept secret are completely devoid of value. In fact, ideas themselves are not even intellectual property (IP). There is a reason that investors look for team, team, team (no, that’s not a typo), and lastly ideas. When they invest with your company, they know that their best chance at winning is to bet on the jockey (the inventor), not the horse (the idea) because it’s all in the execution. But what if you do not have the time, knowledge, or drive to execute your ideas?


When I was in my early twenties—this was sadly almost thirty years ago—I was driving late at night on a country road in Ontario, Canada. Oncoming traffic was sparse but suddenly someone came around the corner with their blinding high beams on, causing me to nearly drive off the road.

Later, I described to my friend a device I thought should be on a car’s rear view mirror that, when detecting oncoming traffic, would turn your high beams off until opposing traffic passed. Neither an engineer nor an inventor at the time, I had no clue what to do with my idea. I also was majoring in accounting and had no time to start a business.

Today, my idea exists on cars, along with many other safety features. Of course, someone else thought of the idea and had the time to do something about it.

The idea of a nontrepreneur did not exist thirty years ago and is a relatively new concept that I think is brilliant. Nontrepreneurs are entrepreneurs that have great ideas, but no time to execute them. Starting and running a company is an incredibly challenging job and not for everyone.

My current company helps inventors and business owners discover and manage their intellectual property as well as ensure they have all the proper contracts and agreements in place to grow without any business or IP issues. As a result, I have spoken to over a thousand entrepreneurs (and likely many nontrepreneurs) over the last four years.

Below are my tips for nontrepreneurs applying to the WayFounder contest:


Shhh! Don’t tell anyone

There is this misplaced notion that you must toil away on your idea on your own and in private, for if you tell anyone your idea they will steal it. Secrets are very important but you will never get anywhere without the advice and support of others. Be smart and do not reveal anything that will be a trade secret, and simply tell people enough to get the help you need. Of course, when in doubt, always consult a professional first.

5% of zero is zero

If you are a nontrepreneur and you are applying to the contest, then I am talking to the converted; you understand that you are never going to develop this idea on your own. If you are still thinking that “only” being left with 5% of your idea is not worth sharing it, just remember my high beams story: if you keep it to yourself and do nothing, you will end up with nothing.

To patent, or not to patent

Whether or not to patent before applying for a contest or funding is a common question. While I cannot give legal advice, I can say that if you have an invention, it is prudent to patent before pitching or fundraising. Check out this recent article where a crowdfunding campaign was taken down because of concerns that the intellectual property was disclosed.

Have an answer

“How have you protected your IP?” and “What are the barriers to entry?” are common questions when pitching investors or applying to contests. While the fallback answer may be, “I don’t know but I will find out,” it’s much better to be prepared. If it is a public pitch, make sure you have protected your IP before you put it out there.

Best of luck Nontrepreneurs!

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