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How To Come Up With a Business Idea: 8+ Brain Boosters (2024)

by California Digital News


Every entrepreneurial journey starts with a seed, a small idea that grows into a blooming business. Often, it’s the only thing standing in the way of you and the life you’ve always wanted. But what if you can’t find one? How do you get unstuck and train your brain to produce great ideas? 

Ideas might strike when you least expect it, but often they need to be actively summoned. In this step-by-step guide, learn how to come up with a business idea, with brainstorming exercises and real examples.

Once you find that one idea, understand how to determine if it has the potential to become a profitable business. Plus, take a personality quiz for more tailored ideation tips.

8 ways to come up with a successful business idea

  1. Find a problem to solve
  2. Assess your interests
  3. Audit your skill set
  4. Improve an existing product or service
  5. Conduct market research
  6. Identify an underserved market
  7. Spot emerging trends
  8. Get innovative

Let’s be clear: No new business idea is guaranteed to be successful. But if you’re running your ideas through the right checkpoints, asking the hard questions, seeking feedback, and open to pivoting, you have a solid chance of reaching success—whatever success means to you.

1. Find a problem to solve

Many great business ideas start with a problem. If you can identify a problem in your own life or the lives of the people around you, it could inspire an idea. After you’ve narrowed in on an area or industry of interest, find out what pain points people have with the products or services offered within. This might mean iterating on an existing idea or inventing something completely new.

Range Beauty ecommerce website

Range Beauty founder Alicia Scott struggled to find the products that wouldn’t irritate her reactive skin. “I just couldn’t get with the makeup brands that were not only ignoring my skin tone but my skin conditions too,” she says. Alicia’s business idea was based on solving that problem, offering reactive skin-friendly beauty products in a range of skin tones.

2. Assess your interests

A good business idea often stems from a founder’s own interests or hobbies. Brainstorm ideas related to things you already enjoy, like a sport, craft, hobby, or subject. Choosing a business idea based on a passion means you’ll have a better chance staying motivated through the twists and turns of starting a small business.

3. Audit your skill set

What are your strengths? Which entrepreneurial traits do you already possess? As you look for an idea for your own business, tap into your existing skills. Many entrepreneurs use this as their starting point. A few examples of this could be:

  • Creative skills. Think of ideas that allow you to work with your hands or put your great eye for design to use.
  • Technical skills. What services can you offer to help others solve problems?
  • Mechanical or construction skills. Can you design and build a new product and a working prototype?
  • People skills. What are some business ideas you can pursue that involve working with or helping people?
  • Do competitive analysis. Who are the major players in the industry and what do they lack?

4. Improve an existing product or service

A great business idea doesn’t have to be an entirely new invention. Some of the most successful brands are those that iterated on or modernized an everyday product or service. Think Uber for taxis and Tinder for analog speed dating—these companies changed the business model for a longstanding service. 

Is there a product or service in your area of interest that you can improve on? Can you innovate to make it faster, smarter, smaller, lighter? What if you offer it in an unexpected color or texture? Can you take an existing concept and apply it to a new purpose?

A single serve cocktail machine

That’s what Bartesian did when its founder Ryan Close riffed on the idea of a capsule coffee machine to create the brand’s single-serve cocktail maker. “I understood it was difficult to make great tasting cocktails at home if you’re not a bartender,” Ryan says. Instead of inventing something from scratch, he leveraged existing technology to create something new.

5. Conduct market research

Take a look at the current market as a source for possible business ideas. This is a great option if you’ve already narrowed your idea down to an industry, target audience, or product category. There are several market research tools and exercises you can use to find a gap in the market or a trend worth pursuing. Some of the ways you can do this are:

  • Interview or survey potential customers and host focus groups.
  • Consult trade publications and industry reports.
  • Run relevant keywords through Google Trends to assess interest over time.
  • Follow influencers and popular accounts in the industry to understand their audiences.

6. Identify an underserved market

If you’re a member of a niche online community, that might be a good place to mine for ideas. Is there another niche market you can cater to? As a consumer with specific needs, are these needs being met by the market? When finding ideas for an underserved market, it’s best if you’re already a part of that market and can understand its needs. 

Ecommerce website homepage for Healthy Roots Dolls

When Yelitsa Jean-Charles spotted a gap in the toy industry, specifically for young Black girls, she used a school assignment to explore it as a business idea. The results of that exploration formed Healthy Roots Dolls, a brand helping girls love their curly hair. “When you’re ignored by the mainstream media, you have to become a problem solver,” says Yelitsa.

7. Spot emerging trends

New business ideas are often sprung from consumer trends or trending products. There are several resources available—most of them free—that can help you identify trends as they emerge. Social platforms such as Pinterest and TikTok have dedicated trend pages. You can also see trending topics within social platforms themselves, usually within the search function. On Instagram, navigate to search and you will see a row of trending keywords below the search bar, while in TikTok you can filter search results by “Top” or toggle to “Hashtags” to see the usage volume for related tags. 

Ecommerce webpage for Somos brand

Sometimes, though, as soon as you spot a trend, it might already be on its way out. Spotting trends before they emerge might mean translating them into a different industry. That’s what Miguel Leal did when he and his co-founders came up with the idea for Somos. They looked to restaurant trends and imagined how those could be translated to consumer packaged goods.

8. Get innovative

New ideas are often sprung from existing ideas or as a modern replacement for an everyday product. But there’s still room to create something entirely new that the world hasn’t seen before. If you have a knack for design and you can identify a problem not solved by something that already exists, develop a product prototype and test it with your target audience.

7 ideation boosters for aspiring entrepreneurs

Simple routine changes in your life can kick-start a flow of ideas. Exercise, better sleep, more water—all common recommendations for whatever ails you. But taking care of your mental health and wellness can have positive psychological effects like improved confidence and motivation

Try these ideation techniques, life hacks, and simple exercises to give your brain a boost and come up with new business ideas.

1. Break your routine 

Shake up your usual routine by taking a new route to work, eating outside rather than at your desk, or doing something new on a Saturday night. A rigid routine might keep you productive, but it’s easy to move through it on auto-pilot, missing out on inspiration.

2. Chill out

There won’t be any vacancy for those fresh ideas if your mind is booked solid with other concerns. Carve out time that’s dedicated to self care, whether for you that’s swinging in the hammock or getting absorbed in hobbies. Go a step further and practice mindfulness, an activity that has been shown to improve divergent thinking. There are plenty of resources, from apps to guided meditation podcasts to help you get started.

3. Doodle

Think of this as completely unstructured visual brainstorming. Just start drawing and let your page fill with scribbles, words, and images that flow from your mind. Don’t judge your drawing ability—this exercise is meant to spark creativity.

4. People-watch and observe new surroundings

Be present and take a look around you. Park yourself on a public bench or on the patio of a café you’ve never visited before and take note of what and who you see. Observing how people interact with their surroundings might spark an idea that solves a problem.

5. Meet and engage with new people

Gain energy from people with different perspectives and run ideas by new friends. Join entrepreneur social groups to engage with folks who are keen to swap ideas and give/get feedback. You might even meet your future business partner this way!

6. Consume content and culture

Read books, listen to audio books or podcasts, watch documentaries, or try a new album or genre of music. Whatever your medium, get inspired by other creators. Don’t limit yourself to just business content—even fiction stimulates creative thinking.

7. Try journaling

Ideas might strike you in the middle of a dream or on a bike ride. Get in the habit of jotting them down to revisit later, even if you don’t have the time to fully flesh them out in the moment. If writing doesn’t come naturally to you, try a journal with structured sections, questions, or exercises.

Brainstorming exercises for business ideas

People painting on easels while one person snips her canvas into a flowerFormal brainstorming techniques can help squeeze out more startup ideas now that your brain is primed for creativity. Whether you opt for a solo practice or a formal exercise with a group, try these methods of brainstorming at any stage—from coming up with a business idea to growing your dream even bigger:

Classic brainstorming

In its most widely accepted format, brainstorming is the process of throwing out any and all ideas unfiltered. Participants call out words or thoughts verbally then engage in conversation to help each other build on ideas. You can set your own rules for the session (like time limits) but the fewer restraints, the more vast the ideas. 


Brainwriting is similar to the verbal version but is done silently, on paper. This method may be preferable if you are in a larger group—that way all voices have equal opportunity to be heard. 

You can use Post-it notes to gather ideas, then discuss as a group. Other variations on silent brainstorming to investigate are: brain netting (online version using a tool like Miro), rapid ideation (lightning round), or method 6-3-5 (timed and structured).


Storyboarding is a visual method of brainstorming that you may use in the latter part of your ideation journey. Say you’ve come up with a great startup idea, you’ve gathered feedback, and you’re ready to flesh out that idea. You can use a storyboard to illustrate scenarios or situations that apply to your idea or work through solving a problem via narrative. 

Mind mapping

Mind mapping is a brainstorming format that is great for solo ideation. It involves writing the central idea or theme at the center of a page then “mapping” word associations off of that idea. 

You can then continue to branch out additional word associations from each of those spin-off ideas. This exercise can also be done in a group using a whiteboard or online whiteboarding tool.

How to validate your business idea

Now that you know how to come up with a business idea, it’s time to validate it. This is the process of understanding whether your idea has a market. These methods will help you answer important questions about your business idea and its viability.

Test half-baked ideas

If you’re having trouble validating your ideas on paper, what if you tested them out through a prototype or beta version of your product? It might not be perfect, but it will allow potential customers to interact with your idea and provide feedback you can use to hone the final product. This means you’re not investing in large scale manufacturing until you’re sure your idea is viable. 

Do competitor analysis

Competitive analysis is a market research process that evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of competitors in your industry. It involves gathering data and insights on your competitors, including details about products, pricing, marketing strategies, distribution channels, and customers. 

Analyzing your competitors can help you spot gaps in their offerings—gaps that you can fill with your business. It also provides a benchmark for what’s expected by consumers for your product. This information can be used in your business plan.

Conduct SWOT analysis

A SWOT analysis can help you evaluate what’s good about your business idea and what’s a potential risk. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This is a framework that prompts you to consider your idea from all angles, including internal and external factors that could impact its success. This can also be included in your eventual business plan.

Engage in trend spotting

If you found your idea through an emerging trend, you can skip this step. But it’s a useful exercise for those ideas that were formed through other means. If you came up with a business idea in the cosmetics industry for example, investigating color trends within that market may help steer your palette in the right direction. 

You can find trending products and other social and cultural trends through Google Trends, publications in your industry, and social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

Seek customer feedback

Don’t live in a vacuum. As you start to come up with a few ideas, workshop them with friends or people who would fit the description of your potential customer. Informal polls or surveys on social media might help confirm your idea’s viability.

“I went directly to consumers,” says Yelitsa about her decision to use crowdfunding to validate Healthy Roots Dolls. “I presented the concept to them and let them vote with their money and proved that there was demand.”

Conduct a gap analysis

While competitive analysis can be used to find gaps in the market of your competitor’s businesses, a gap analysis looks at your idea’s own gaps. You can use this process to determine where your business or idea is in its current form, and the ideal future state to become viable or competitive. 

A gap analysis is often conducted by a company after a period of being in business, but you can use many of the same exercises to identify gaps before you launch.

Ideation strategies for every personality type

How you best come up with ideas will depend on your personality type. Do you ideate effectively in groups? Are you inspired by art, nature, or books? Understanding a little more about your personality will help unlock the best strategies for coming up with winning small business ideas. Take our quiz then navigate to your Founder Sign for tailored tips.

Business idea generation for Trailblazers

You’re full of ideas, Trailblazer! Where you might stumble is focusing on just one or doing the work to validate that idea beyond your passion for it. For you, ideating in a group is ideal, because you could use voices of reason to balance your gut instincts.

Ideation techniques picked just for your personality type are:

  • Tap into your community to share your ideas widely and use outside perspectives to help shape your ideas. But share early—if you fall too deeply in love with an idea, you may have a hard time hearing criticism.
  • Try visual brainstorming techniques like mood boarding, mind mapping, or storyboarding that let you express yourself creatively.

Business idea generation for Outsiders

Ideation is hard for you, Outsider, because you like to operate within a strict routine. Inside the bubble you’ve created for yourself, it may be challenging to gather inspiration. Pushing outside of your comfort zone will expose you to creative stimuli and help shake off the brain dust. 

Get unstuck and open your mind to new ideas by trying these techniques, handpicked for you:

  • Try a more structured brainstorming approach that prompts you with set questions rather than a brain dump style which may be too overwhelming.
  • Get out of your comfort zone. Even baby steps like breaking routine or visiting a new restaurant can bring inspiration into your life.

Business idea generation for Mountaineers

Chances are, Mountaineer, you’ve already found your big idea and you’re pushing toward it with pure, uninterrupted dedication. If not, you might be feeling a little lost right now. That’s because you’re driven by goals that you map the rest of your life around. 

Discover your true calling through these ideation techniques picked just for you:

  • Call on your most trusted allies—ideally a group of people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives and who are confident enough to challenge your ideas. Bounce ideas in an informal brainstorm or organize a structured session.
  • Expand your circles. Seek out new experiences, travel, and meet new people. Expose yourself to situations that inspire and spark ideas. 

Business idea generation for Firestarters

Ideas? You’re dripping with them, Firestarter. If we know you, you’re probably chasing down half a dozen of them right now. Ideas are what drive you, so you’re not looking to nail yourself to just one. For you, finding deep pools of inspiration, ideas, and collaboration is where you’ll thrive. 

Try these methods for gathering ideas, picked for your personality type:

  • Surround yourself with folks like yourself who inspire friendly competition, but also seek out counterpoints. Healthy debate will only strengthen your ideas.
  • Don’t settle on just one business idea. Narrow your ideas to the most promising and put them into practice. The best ones will reveal themselves through trial and error.

Business idea generation for Cartographers

Your attention to detail and ability to examine all angles tend to produce iron-clad ideas, Cartographer. Where you falter is in letting go. Being too rigid at this stage of the process might cause you to miss truly creative and wild ideas. 

Try these ideation strategies picked just for Cartographers like you:

  • Solo mind mapping is a great exercise for Cartographers because it marries creativity and structure.
  • After gathering inspiration and landing on a new business idea, it’s time to give it shape. Market research can help you gather data to support your sharp instincts. Leverage free entrepreneur resources to help you where you may have knowledge gaps.

Successful businesses are born from an idea

The best business ideas are those that bloom into thriving brands. But don’t act too quickly on an idea before you validate it first. Every successful founder asked themselves hard questions, conducted research, and tested their ideas before launching their product or service to the world. Put your brand new business idea to the test and you’ll have a better chance of transforming it into a profitable business.

Feature illustration by Alice Mollon

How to come up with a business idea FAQ

How do you come up with an idea to start a business?

Business ideas are often inspired by the world around you. First, look at your interests and skill set—can you find an idea at the intersection of these two things? Next identify a real world problem or pain points people often have with an existing product or service. Can you find a solution? Use brainstorming exercises and seek inspiration from your life to help you find a viable business idea. 

How do you develop a good business idea?

Once you have a great business idea, it’s time to develop it. Validating your idea is the first step to doing so. Conduct market research to determine if there’s demand for your idea. This can be done through researching industry reports, interviewing your target customers through online surveys, and looking at market trends. After you’ve validated your idea, you can turn your business idea into your own business. 

How do you brainstorm a business idea?

Business ideas are often born from a brainstorming session or other creative process. There are a number of styles of formal brainstorming exercises, including brainwriting, storyboarding, and mind mapping. When brainstorming, remember that this is not the time to edit. Capture everything that comes to mind—even the worst ideas could inspire you to find a great one.


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