Baltimore | Entrepreneur Guides

Need Help Getting Started? Use our handy Guides to begin your entrepreneurial journey

I Have An Idea - Now What?

So you have an idea for a startup, small business, or nonprofit. Now what?

Introduction

So you have an idea for a startup, small business, or nonprofit that you want to start. Maybe it’s a web app that helps people find resources for their ventures, a landscaping company with expertise in shrub sculptures, or an afterschool program for local kids whose parents work late. 


Whatever it is, you can’t stop thinking about it. But what are you supposed to do now?


There is no cut and dry formula for starting a successful venture (what EcoMap calls startups, small businesses, and nonprofits collectively), but there are basic steps that you can take to make sure that you’re directing your time and energy in the best way. 


This guide is meant to help the entrepreneur who is at the very beginning of the process - the Idea Stage. Here’s how you know you’re at the Idea Stage:


  • You’ve been thinking about this idea for a while, and maybe you’ve even shared it with some family and friends


  • There is a clear problem that you are trying to solve, but you aren’t totally sure what the final solution will be

  • You haven’t taken any steps to legally incorporate the venture, and you probably don’t have a website or social media pages for it 


Sound like you? Again, there’s no perfect definition, but ventures in the Idea stage are typically just that - ideas. They exist in your head, but they have yet to be manifested in the physical world - which is the goal! Now, let’s get started making them a reality.


Section 1

Step 1: Deeply Understand The Problem You Are Solving 


Entrepreneurship is problems-focused, not solutions-focused. What does that mean?


Every venture is about solving a problem. EcoMap solves the problem of entrepreneurs not knowing how to find resources for their ventures. A restaurant solves the problem of people not having a specific type of cuisine in a specific area at a specific price. A landscaping company solves the problem of unkempt lawns and the headaches they cause property owners.


Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of falling in love with their solution instead of falling in love with the problem itself. We all like to think that our idea is the best thing in the world, but if we think in a solution-centric way, we risk falling into the trap that kills more ventures than anything else: 


Building something that no one wants. 


No Market Need. That’s a nice way of saying that nobody wanted the product, or at the very least, they didn’t want to pay for it. 


If you only focus on your solution, you risk building something that no one actually wants. However, if you start from a problem - a problem that you know affects many people - and build a solution that addresses that problem, you will create something that people want and will utilize, whether that is an iPhone application or a nonprofit program. 


So, the first step in moving past the idea stage is to deeply understand the problem that you are solving. To do that, you need to get your Idea out of your head for a bit (I know, it’s hard!) But if you are constantly thinking about your possible solutions, you will miss learning about important aspects of the problem that lay the foundation for a successful venture. 


So, how do you get a deep understanding of a problem? 


Talk to people who experience the problem. 


Find people who deal with the problem that you are trying to solve. Maybe you know them personally, or maybe you have to find them online and send some emails. Try to talk to people beyond your family and friends. 


When talking to people, don’t tell them about your solution, simply absorb as much information as possible about how this problem affects their lives (this might even be how you got your idea in the first place. If so, you’re on the right track!). Ask questions that prompt a narrative response, such as “Describe to me how you get around the City”, and avoid leading questions, such as “Don’t you think the bus system is slow?”


Talk to as many people as you need until you have a really solid understanding of the problem that you want to solve. Supplement your knowledge at your local library, or with Google searches, or by talking to some “experts” who may have experience trying to solve that problem (other local entrepreneurs are a great place to start). Write down everything you learn into a journal or online document. 


In the ideal world, your hunch about the problem is validated by what people are saying. However, you might find that what you thought is a problem, really isn't one at all. Or maybe it is more of an annoyance than something that needs to be fixed. If this is the case, adjust your problem definition with the feedback you are getting from your conversations, and repeat until you have identified a problem that needs a better solution. 


Once you have a clear definition of this problem…


Struggling with this step? Here are some local resources that can help:

Event
Idea
EAGB Annual Meeting

Join us as the EAGB celebrates the Region’s economic assets and opportunities.


Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
All
Industries:
Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Other
Idea
Baltimore County Public Library Resource for Entrepreneurs

An online collection of resources for entrepreneurs provided by the Baltimore County Public Library

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
All
Industries:
Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Other
Idea
Baltimore's Premier Women's Entrepreneur Network

We are the premier resource for Women Entrepreneurs! There is no other networking opportunities that are as effective as eWomenNetwork.

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
All
Industries:
Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Event
Idea
Johns Hopkins Digital Health Day: Health Tech Frontiers

Join to explore the possibilities for your health tech idea and connect with Johns Hopkins clinicians.

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
All
Industries:

Healthcare Technology

Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Other
Idea
Bonsal Capital Reverberation Newsletter

This inaugural newsletter serves as introduction to the next phase of Bonsal Capital's journey to find, support, and catalyze mission-driven founders

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
All
Industries:

Social Impact

Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Accelerator
Idea
Grants
DevLab XR Accelerator 2019

DevLab is a six week content accelerator for immersive films, games, apps, art, and experiences.

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
Idea, Early, Established
Industries:

Virtual & Augmented Reality

Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Incubator
Idea
8(a) Accelerator Program

The 8(a) Accelerator is a six-week initiative developed in collaboration with the U.S. Small. Business Administration (SBA) to give 8(a) companies the edge they need to win more government contracts.

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
Idea, Early, Established
Industries:

Government Contracting

Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Event
Idea
Bioinnovation Conference

Presented by Maryland Life Sciences (MDLS), a division of the Maryland Tech Council, the Bio Innovation Conference showcases Maryland’s innovation and success in the life sciences industry.

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
All
Industries:

Life sciences, Biotechnology, Healthcare

Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty

Section 2

Step 2: Figure Out How People Currently Solve This Problem 


Now that you know what your problem is, you need to figure out how people currently solve it - i.e, what solutions they are using. There are typically three categories of solutions: Non-Solutions, Hacks, and Direct Fixes. 


With Non-Solutions, people just deal with the problem because they have no good way to address it. With Hacks, people have figured out a way to solve the problem, but it’s not perfect because it’s either inefficient, expensive, or both. With Direct Fixes, the problem is being solved in full and the consumer is happy. 


The best way to understand these three categories is with a few examples. 


Example 1 (A Small Business)

Idea: A Fence Painting Company

The Problem: People want their fences to look nice, but they lack the time and tools to paint them

How people currently solve this problem: 

  • The Non-Solution: Don’t paint the fence. 
  • The problem doesn’t get solved, and the property owner is still upset.

  • The Hack: Pay a neighborhood kid $20 to paint the fence. 
  • Part of the problem gets solved, but the kid might not do the best job since he doesn’t have the needed tools

  • The Direct Fix: Hire a company that specializes in fence painting
  • The problem is solved! 



Example 2 (A Tech Startup)

Idea: A social network where people can share photos with their friends

Problem: People want to share cool things in their life, and they like to see what is going on in other people’s lives, but they don’t have an easy way to do so


How people currently solve this problem: 

  • The Non-Solution: Don’t post photos, don’t see friend’s photos
  • The problem doesn’t get solved, no photos are shared

  • The Hack: Email photos to your friends
  • Part of the problem gets solved, but emailing photos takes forever and you can only email specific people

  • The Direct Fix: A mobile-application photo sharing platform (Instagram, anyone?)
  • The problem is solved! 


Spend some time thinking about the Non-Solutions, Hacks, and Direct Fixes for your problem.  


You’ll likely have an intuitive grasp of the Non-Solutions, you’ll learn a lot about the Hacks from your conversations in Step 1, and you might find some Direct Fixes by researching online or by talking to people. Compile information about all of these solutions in your journal or online document - you’ll need them in Step 3. 


Obviously, your goal with building a venture is to create a Direct Fix to an important problem. So why spend your time researching the Non-Solutions and Hacks? Because...


Struggling with this step? Look through some local resources that can help:

Earliest Stage Served
Resource Types
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Event
Newsmaker Breakfast Series

The GBC Newsmaker Breakfast Series consists of 10 events scheduled throughout the year, with each program consisting of an elected official, government or business leader or panel of high profile infl…

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Event
Industry Awards Celebration

MTC’s Industry Awards Celebration honors the best in the region’s technology and life science communities and is one of Maryland’s largest and most prestigious award ceremonies. This is our 30th anniv…

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Funding
Growth
Equity
ABS Capital Partners

We become deeply involved in the longer-term potential of later-stage growth companies, focusing the same enthusiasm and excitement that is normally reserved for the initial start up phase of a comp…

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Funding
Established
Debt
Commercial Construction and Rehab Loans

Planning your next project? Our low-cost loans give you something to build on.Building a new shopping center or condo complex can be a complicated and costly undertaking. The same goes for renovating…

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty

Section 3

Step 3: Figure Out Why These Solutions are Inadequate. 


Now that you have a clear idea of what existing solutions are, you can start to think about why they are inadequate. After all, if these solutions were totally effective, there wouldn’t be a problem! But based on your feedback from Step 1, there is still a problem, so that means there are at least some aspects of the existing solutions that are not totally cutting it. 


Oftentimes, existing solutions fall short because they… 


  • Are Expensive  → only people with a certain amount of money can access them

  • Are Exclusive → they are only accessible to people in a certain geographic area, who have certain connections, or access to certain resources

  • Are Incomplete → they only solve part of the problem 


For each of the existing solutions that you identified in Step 2, come up with a few reasons why they are inadequate. Be very honest in this process, don’t create an inadequacy where there isn’t one - give credit where credit is due. The purpose of this exercise is to identify where the gap is: Which parts of the problem are not being solved by existing solutions, and why?


Once you have answered that question, you have identified your opportunity. Maybe this opportunity aligns well with your original idea, and maybe it is totally different. But if you have been thorough and honest in each step of this process, you can rest assured knowing that you have the chance to build a solution that solves a problem in a way that nothing else does. 


Struggling with this step? Here are some local resources that can help:

Event
Idea
EAGB Annual Meeting

Join us as the EAGB celebrates the Region’s economic assets and opportunities.


Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
All
Industries:
Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Other
Idea
Baltimore County Public Library Resource for Entrepreneurs

An online collection of resources for entrepreneurs provided by the Baltimore County Public Library

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
All
Industries:
Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Other
Idea
Baltimore's Premier Women's Entrepreneur Network

We are the premier resource for Women Entrepreneurs! There is no other networking opportunities that are as effective as eWomenNetwork.

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
All
Industries:
Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Event
Idea
Johns Hopkins Digital Health Day: Health Tech Frontiers

Join to explore the possibilities for your health tech idea and connect with Johns Hopkins clinicians.

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
All
Industries:

Healthcare Technology

Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Other
Idea
Bonsal Capital Reverberation Newsletter

This inaugural newsletter serves as introduction to the next phase of Bonsal Capital's journey to find, support, and catalyze mission-driven founders

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
All
Industries:

Social Impact

Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Accelerator
Idea
Grants
DevLab XR Accelerator 2019

DevLab is a six week content accelerator for immersive films, games, apps, art, and experiences.

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
Idea, Early, Established
Industries:

Virtual & Augmented Reality

Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Incubator
Idea
8(a) Accelerator Program

The 8(a) Accelerator is a six-week initiative developed in collaboration with the U.S. Small. Business Administration (SBA) to give 8(a) companies the edge they need to win more government contracts.

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
Idea, Early, Established
Industries:

Government Contracting

Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Event
Idea
Bioinnovation Conference

Presented by Maryland Life Sciences (MDLS), a division of the Maryland Tech Council, the Bio Innovation Conference showcases Maryland’s innovation and success in the life sciences industry.

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
All
Industries:

Life sciences, Biotechnology, Healthcare

Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty

Conclusion


At this point, you should have a solid understanding of the problem you are trying to solve, how people are currently solving it, and why these existing solutions are inadequate. This information lays the foundation for what will become your competitive advantage as a venture, or the secret-sauce that makes your startup, small business, or nonprofit successful. 

Congratulations! You have completed the first step in building a successful venture. 


But you are still in the Idea Stage… and that’s okay! There is still much more groundwork that needs to be established before you start building your venture. What’s the next step? Designing A Solution That Meets Their Needs. (Coming soon!)

Entrepreneur Guide:
At A Glance
Currently Reading:

I Have An Idea - Now What?

So you have an idea for a startup, small business, or nonprofit. Now what?
Guide Details:
For Ventures at Stage:
Idea
Tags to Use on EcoMap:
Idea
This will help you with:
Figuring out the problem, Starting a Venture
Previous Guide:
No items found.
Next Guide:
No items found.
Go Find Resources

Don't Build Alone:

Use the Baltimore Resource Navigator to find local resources that can assist you with: 
I Have An Idea - Now What?
Event
Idea
EAGB Annual Meeting

Join us as the EAGB celebrates the Region’s economic assets and opportunities.


Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
All
Industries:
Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Other
Idea
Baltimore County Public Library Resource for Entrepreneurs

An online collection of resources for entrepreneurs provided by the Baltimore County Public Library

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
All
Industries:
Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Other
Idea
Baltimore's Premier Women's Entrepreneur Network

We are the premier resource for Women Entrepreneurs! There is no other networking opportunities that are as effective as eWomenNetwork.

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
All
Industries:
Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Event
Idea
Johns Hopkins Digital Health Day: Health Tech Frontiers

Join to explore the possibilities for your health tech idea and connect with Johns Hopkins clinicians.

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
All
Industries:

Healthcare Technology

Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Other
Idea
Bonsal Capital Reverberation Newsletter

This inaugural newsletter serves as introduction to the next phase of Bonsal Capital's journey to find, support, and catalyze mission-driven founders

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
All
Industries:

Social Impact

Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Accelerator
Idea
Grants
DevLab XR Accelerator 2019

DevLab is a six week content accelerator for immersive films, games, apps, art, and experiences.

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
Idea, Early, Established
Industries:

Virtual & Augmented Reality

Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Incubator
Idea
8(a) Accelerator Program

The 8(a) Accelerator is a six-week initiative developed in collaboration with the U.S. Small. Business Administration (SBA) to give 8(a) companies the edge they need to win more government contracts.

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
Idea, Early, Established
Industries:

Government Contracting

Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty
Event
Idea
Bioinnovation Conference

Presented by Maryland Life Sciences (MDLS), a division of the Maryland Tech Council, the Bio Innovation Conference showcases Maryland’s innovation and success in the life sciences industry.

Startups
Small Biz
Nonprofits
Stages:
All
Industries:

Life sciences, Biotechnology, Healthcare

Learn More
Restriction: youth, student, or faculty