Lots of folks have great ideas, but most have no idea what to do with them.
Enter the Arkansas Inventor's Network, a non-profit established as a support network for innovative people who need help getting their ideas off the ground.
Chad Collins, president of AIN, said the group began to take shape two years ago when the Arkansas Economic Development Commission organized a meeting to bring inventors together in a formal setting. Collins, a consultant who specializes in helping inventors get from concept to market, took the reigns and created a regular meeting group. By the summer of 2007, a board was formed and by-laws written.
"As a consultant, I hear a lot of ideas," Collins said in a recent interview. "In the last year I heard over 150. A few of those were OK, and I worked on two or three."
The majority of the ideas he hears, he said, are marginal and need a lot of work. But even the good ideas worth bootstrapping - a common funding method used among members - need don't take off without help.
"They need to go to a support group," Collins said.
There are currently 25 AIN members who come together to seek and give advice on everything from obtaining a patent to developing a prototype to marketing the product.
"Most individuals, they're not going to know that process," Collins said. "So we try and walk them through it."
For instance, Joe Calhoun of the Calhoun Law Firm provided an overview of patent law during the group's September meeting.
Navigating the Process
Scott Bonge, 38, of Little Rock is one member who is currently navigating that process.
"It really has helped me out tremendously because, being an inventor, it's hard to know what to do without paying big money to really have somebody else do it for you," he said. "Most people don't have those kinds of resources."
Bonge came up with the idea for his GoateeSaver five years ago and began taking steps to get it on the market 18 months ago. Through an AIN contact, Bonge got a three-dimensional prototype of his product drawn at a very reasonable price with the help of a Rogers high school teacher and his students.
"The most helpful thing is seeing that a lot of us are in the same boat," he said. "We all go through a lot of the same struggles in trying to figure out how to get from point one to point two."
The GoateeSaver is currently being sold on the Web, and Bonge has begun promoting the product to retailers.
Fifty-two-year-old Candyce Chevalier of Hot Springs isn't quite as far along with her invention, as she indicated in her reluctance to reveal too much about the product. The teacher's aid had come up with her idea for a yard implement several years before learning about AIN.
"It's expansive," she said of the invention-to-market process. "It's big and hard and you run into roadblocks. Some people, if they're not like me, they would just immediately stop."
Chevalier now has a patent pending on her product.
'Do What You Love'
Collins said the majority of the members' products involve activities like hunting and farming.
"It's what they do every day - it's not necessarily hi-tech," he said.
Other than the $35 membership fee, which is used to pay for meeting at the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Services building, AIN operates solely on sweat equity - or volunteers. Members come from all over the state, including Clinton, Hot Springs and northwest Arkansas. Though he encourages young people to join, Collins said the majority of current members are older, many with experience in fields related to their inventions.
"They have that experience factor in their jobs, but say 'I'm here because I want to try and invent something on my own,'" Collins said.
Bonge, a former stock broker turned pharmaceutical rep, encourages inventors to "dust off their dreams and go after what it is that they've been holding back on."
"It's not always about the money; you do what you love and the money will follow."
Visit the AIN Web site to learn more.