Ronald J. Riley
Subject: Inventor Initiative for Genesee County, Michigan
The Flint School district has run an innovation contest for eighth grade students for several years. This program has been funded through the generosity of Doug Hougen, the Hougen Foundation. The program has floundered and was in eminent danger of the funding being withdrawn.
In early May of 1997 Mr. Hougen asked me how it might be salvaged. I started networking with a number of area institutions to explore how the program might be revitalized. But the end of the k-12 school year, in June 1997, made many people unavailable.
This fall I considered the problem again. My first inclination was to contact Genesee Intermediate School District (GISD). But the contact person, Marsha Fortner, who is in charge of the Gifted and Talented program, has been on extended sick leave for fourteen months. GISD referred me to M. Burger, who seemed disinterested. I have since contacted Mrs. Fortner directly, and while she is very interested, we have not had a chance to discuss the proposal in detail.
After more consideration, it occurred to me that there was potential to leverage the original program, (which was only for eighth grade ) into a much more comprehensive program that could not only expose 7-12 grade students to invention, but also be used teach the concept of community service from 7th grade up to and including college students. This program would promote collaboration among students studying different disciplines, plant the seeds of entrepreneurial thought, and ultimately produce college graduates who will found the companies and industries which would diversify the areas economic base.
To that end I am proposing that the Inventors Council of Mid-Michigan http://www.rjriley.com/icmm/ and professional inventors would work with college students to promote entrepreneurial and inventive thinking. The college students would be expected to offer similar community service in exchange for their exposure to professional inventors.
Their service would take the form of them mentoring the 7th through 12th grade students who become involved in the program. I believe that teaching the concept that community service is important a crucial goal of the program, since the participants will carry that lesson through life.
This program would consist of two sub programs. The first stage of the program would conduct an invention contest similar to the original program sponsored by the Hougen Foundation. That program conducted an invention contest for Flint school eighth grade students only. The new inventor contest would be county wide ,and open to all county students from 7th grade through 12th grade. The program would file for a patent for the winners.
The second stage would be to set up E-Teams as promoted by the late Jerome Lemelson (visit the web site at http://www.InventorEd.org/inventors/Lemelson ) NCIIA program. This program will award institutions up to $20,000 to set up e-team programs.
The E-team concept is to create teams of students with business and engineering backgrounds, who attempt to commercialize an invention. More information is available about the program at: http://hamp.hampshire.edu/nciia/rfp9798.html#WhatET
As academias traditional funding sources have decreased ,many universities have turned to intellectual property as a supplemental income source. There is a well established network to facilitate technology transfer from academic institutions to industry and excellent policy guidelines are available at: http://nhse.cs.rice.edu/autm/.
There is no reason that all college level academic institutions should not capitalize on invention as a revenue source, even junior colleges. The key to making this succeed, especially for smaller institutions, is the use of contingency litigators and or partnering with a larger institution which has a technology transfer office in place.
In the case of our area, we have a number of smaller educational institutions. It may make sense to have a community tech transfer office which would service all the smaller academic institutions, and possibly the independent inventor community as well. Again, it may make sense for such a facility to partner with a larger institutions technology transfer office.
I would also like to see scholarships awarded to area students who demonstrate the willingness to learn the necessary skills to be inventors and entrepreneurs. To that end I propose that we seek donations and or endowments from local or regional inventors, and probably name each scholarship after the contributing inventor. Another possibility is to seek scholarship funds from area related businesses in our area, which would expand the base of community participants.
Another goal is to address the problem that contemporary business people, who have benefited from our capitalistic system, have not been as likely to invest in good works as our ancestors.
It is very difficult to cultivate new donors. One of my goals is to create a situation where academia and cultural center staff may interact with commercially successful inventors in a manner that does not discourage or offend those who have the means to become community patrons. In other words, I am suggesting that involving successful inventors in a program that recognizes their contributions and establish a relationship on that basis, followed by solicitations for contributions after the relationship is well established, is much more likely to succeed than a cold call pitch for the same funding.
To accomplish this, I would like the Sloan Museum to create an exhibit honoring invention, and to display information about a local or regional inventor each quarter. And then have the selected inventor give a talk for students, academia, and the public at large. These talks could be video taped and archived for viewing later as a public resource. After the formal, talk a free time to allow networking would facilitate interaction between students, academia, cultural center staff, and inventors.
It may make sense to incorporate the creation of these tapes into one or more classes for either high school or college students. And it would be nice to put the talks on Digital Video Disks (DVD) and allow them to be selected and viewed (using a CD jukebox) at the invention exhibit and possibly at other sites as well.
To foster skills of collaboration and knowledge about the inventive process I suggest that teams of one each; journalism, business, and engineering students (college or high school students) should be encouraged to identify, research, and interview a local inventor and write a report on same.
The report should be submitted to a committee who would select one each quarter to be the local inventor of the quarter. And further, the team who produces the selected report should be paid for their efforts. This will give them a taste of making an investment in a creative work for which they may or may not receive recognition and compensation, just as free lance writers or inventors make such investments. Another goal of this process is to raise the awareness of the students concerning the value of understanding multiple disciplines to the entrepreneurial process.
I suggest an annual award be presented to the inventor of the quarter judged most significant, followed by a get-together with hors doeuvres. Invitations should be extended to academia, cultural center staff, existing patrons, and inventors. This creates opportunity for area organizations to network with commercially successful inventors and entrepreneurs and ultimately to seek funding from those persons for community projects.
Other related Issues:
It may make sense to collaborate with Junior Achievement programs to market student produced inventions. There is an initiative in Boy Scouts, actually explorer scouts, to add a creativity badge. That may represent another opportunity for collaboration. In any event, I believe it is good policy to pursue as many opportunities for such collaboration that present themselves.
I am successful as an inventor because I studied the history of invention in general, but especially the history of a number of contemporary inventors. I have been very active in my career in industrial automation. And I have watched as we have moved from the first industrial revolution into the second.
The first industrial revolution needed large numbers of people and started in urban centers in order to take advantage of the higher population densities. The second uses much more automation and therefore manufacturing many be located anywhere. The high population density of a city and the related social problems are compelling reasons to locate the business outside the city. In addition, city taxes are often higher than those outside the city.
It is inherent that most things, if not all, need an underlying economic basis if they are to prosper over long time frames. Urban centers such as Flint, Michigan generally have been excessively dependent on older industries, which are in decline or becoming multinational in nature. This is most certainly not a new observation.
If our metropolitan area is to prosper, it must have an economic reason for its existence. For twenty-five years I have watched our leaders have lament about this problem. No one ever addresses the root causes.
It is inherent that multinational companies will always do what is in their short term interests, and that often means what is detrimental to their host countries and communities. They are likely to produce product wherever they can do so at the lowest cost, and they will of course want to sell that product wherever they can get the highest return.
Inventors and entrepreneurs are much more likely to produce product in their own community and country of origin. They are generally much better citizens than multinationals who have a vested interest in maintaining their community. But they face huge obstacles at the startup stage, not the least of which is predatory large entities stealing their work.
The program I have described may be funded primarily by successful inventor entrepreneurs. It supplies a inexpensive mechanism to identify those persons who have benefited from the system. It allows gradual engagement of those persons in the program. The program will produce a generation of people who have been exposed to those who succeed, and create the will and show the method for our young to repeat those success stories. It will encourage networking between our young and experienced business persons, hopefully allowing the energy and creativity of the young to be nurtured with the resources and experience of those who proceeded them.
I would expect to see new businesses formed within five years of the start of this program, which is as short a pay-back period as can be expected.
And I would hope that this program would lead to similar programs via the nationwide collaboration which has occurred among professional independent inventors over the last three years.
Ronald J. Riley
PS: After uploading this file I became aware (on 11-21-97) that General Motors has announced that Buick City Assembly Plant will be closed, eliminating 3,125 jobs at Buick and probably double that number when the trickle down effects are taken into account. This represents a loss of about one third of the Buick City jobs and demonstrates why industrial centers like Flint must invest their efforts in diversification and not in producing workers for GM, or any other specific employer as has been suggested by some community leaders.