Wanted to validate my photography niche idea so I called a bunch of photographers off google and asked them if the offer this kind of service...most said they had never done it before but could easily incorporate it into their workflow and talked prices and procedures.....perfect! I now validated the idea (still need to validate customer side) Was that sketchy... should I tell them that it was an idea and perhaps they would like to partner or will they be displeased to hear their potential customer is another photographer...I thought it seemed fair because they just gained knowledge of a potential new rev stream for themselves.
Could it be called Sketchy? Yes. Does everyone do it in every industry to get insider info on competitor pricing and presentation.... Pretty much.
With that said if any do present as people you would like to work with, then for sure let them know what you were doing, that they made the cut, and that you would be honored to work with them.
I would love to share a quote that this reminded me of, "If Someone Offers You An Opportunity And You Are Not Sure You Can Do It, Say Yes - Then Learn How To Do It Late" - Richard Branson and my latest tweet :) https://twitter.com/AverageJoeVC.
You are doing everything right! You are not sketchy at all and the truth of the matter is, they likely receive a lot of these types of inquiries. What you are potentially doing for them is presenting them with additional business for their endeavors, almost like providing them with additional deal flow. If you can firm up exactly what your offering is, how it would be fulfilled, the costs associated with fulfilling it, and ultimately come up with a price for that offering, you can then go work on the customer side of the equation to match the customer with the provider who would fulfill the solution and essentially broker the deal. Looks like you may be building a Marketplace of some sort and I encourage you to keep on moving :). Good luck.