Many small businesses need help with design and development of inventions at various stages. A startup may want a mockup or virtual prototype in order to pitch for funding. Later, the business may need a working prototype for further proof of concept. Then that prototype may need to be further refined for efficient manufacture. Thus a business may need expertise in moving forward from the concept stage to a tangible product. As I have stated before, be extremely cautious in using inventor assistance companies for these services. That being said, there are some governmental entities that are available for free or at reduced cost.
One great resource for the proof of concept, prototype assistance, and working through some of the early stage engineering issues is the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP). SATOP is an alliance of scientists, engineers, and other technical professionals who provide free technical assistance in machine design, process engineering, material selection, and numerous other technologies. Note: SATOP does not work on software or information technology projects. SATOP offers up to 40 hours of hours of free technical assistance, with a goal a providing a solution within three months. A small business submits a request for technical assistance and the program checks its subject matter expertise and availability before accepting the project. SATOP has centers in Florida, New Mexico, New York, and Texas.
There are other similar programs around the country, although their focus, cost, and scope of assistance may vary. Some programs provide only with the original prototype and others focus on specific industries.. Frequently, the programs are associated with a university or a Small Business Development Center. The University of Pittsburgh Manufacturing Assistance Center can assist with a wide range of issues from conception to the manufacturing process. It can help in creating 2D or 3D CAD models, machining, fabrication, and pilot production. The University of Maine College of Engineering also offers a program available to businesses, entrepreneurs, and researchers. The University of Utah will soon open the Energy Innovation Commercialization Center offering services in the clean and renewable energy.
Other than a search engine, great starting points for locating these program are your local Small Business Development Center counselors or counselors at the entrepreneurship or engineering department of your local university. The programs do not typically retain ownership of the intellectual property, thus you would maintain control of the patents and proprietary technology.