Entrepreneurship: Research a Commercial Product

Developing a research protocol to validate a commercial product.


A business needs to scientifically validate its products in order to prove to its target market that its products meet the needs of the customers. The researcher would work with a team composed of other researchers and/or members of the business to develop and implement studies to test whether a product is effective. A goal of this evidence-based work may be the publication of the experimental or survey results in peer-reviewed journals. Once published, the business could cite the published paper to show that their product is scientifically proven to be effective.

The Process

  1. Identify key concepts and issues for the product that the business would want to research.
  2. Search the current literature for studies that have been done on similar products.
  3. Write a research proposal for the product.
  4. Discuss with team members and relevant leadership in the business to identify and specify the roles that different entities will play in the research (e.g., users, external collaborators, staff).
  5. Discuss with team members the possible risks that might occur during research for subjects.
  6. Draft an IRB application for the research project based on the information gathered in the above steps and prepare for submission

The Exercise:

Your task is to develop a feasible research plan for a product. The research plan needs to be aligned with the business’ desired direction of research, and also consistent with the existing literature. The business has some products that have shown a certain level of market success. The business would now like to bring their products to the next level by scientifically validating them.

For this exercise, you are a research intern in a small business that produces tools for improving parenting skills. The CEO would like you to develop a research protocol to test whether one of their products can effectively reduce children’s stress and anxiety.

Task 1 – Identify key concepts and issues that the business wants to know about the product.

For this simulation, choose one product from the list of Best Parenting Products for Positive Parenting: https://www.positiveparentingsolutions.com/parenting/best-parenting-products-list

Write a list of ~8 questions to brainstorm ways by which one can identify the key concepts and issues, such as:

  • How is the product described to its customers?
  • What do the leaders in the business see in this product?
  • How do keywords of the product translate into concepts and terms in the relevant field of research?

In developing the research plan, keep in mind that the research process needs to be both scientifically rigorous and aligned with the business’s strategic goals, because the ultimate goal for scientific validation is to help the business grow.

Task 2 – Search the current literature for studies on similar products

After identifying the key concepts and issues, use them to search for existing research done in relevant scientific fields. In particular, look for studies that test similar products. Sometimes the theoretical terms used in the academic literature are different from those used in the business world. Thus, you might need to think about the relationships between closely related terms and determine whether they refer to the same concepts.

Task 3 – Specify roles each research entity will play

This is an important step for the IRB application and also for conducting the human subjects studies, especially if multiple entities might be involved. This means frequent communications with involved entities to figure out collaboration details. This task tackles a set of skills including the ability to convey ideas clearly to others, and listen to understand others’ ideas fully. You will also need the ability to think independently, and use your own judgment for a collaboration plan for the team. You would then discuss the proposed plan with the CEO as you draft the IRB.

  • Lay out all the possible responsibilities the business could assume during a research process.
  • Brainstorm ways for communicating information efficiently among representatives from different parties (e.g. among a small business, a research institution, a non-profit organization, etc.);
  • Brainstorm potential conflict resolution strategies or negotiation strategies

Sample Deliverable

Coming soon.

General resources to help you get going

Skills used to perform this task

  • Research
  • Organization
  • Technical writing
  • Critical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Communication skills

Skills used in a science writing career

  • Time and project management
  • Presentation skills
  • Academic writing
  • Communication skills
  • Patience
  • Ability to synthesize information

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Simulation author: Xiaoyu Ke, PhD student in Philosphy-Neuroscience-Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis.

Simulation vetted by professionals from the start up community in St. Louis, MO.