Kedma Ough, program director of the newly formed Micro-Inventors Program of Oregon, is a straight-talking businesswoman with an affinity for getting new ideas to market. Her consulting business, Avita, provides affordable advisory services to women, minority and disabled entrepreneurs. We caught up with her on the heels of the first annual Oregon Inventor’s Showcase, held in April, to talk about what MIPO has to offer.
What is MIPO?
It’s a nonprofit program of East County One-Stop [a workforce development program in east Multnomah County]. My company, Avita, provides the training center as an in-kind donation.
How did you start working with inventors?
My background is economic development. Three years ago someone came to me with an idea they paid to have protected through the U.S. Patent Office. They said, “I’ve got this patented and now I want you to sell it.” Well, it was a piece of garbage, it wasn’t marketable. I began to do some research and realized that there was no support out there for inventors.
And there was your opening.
Yes. I set up a program to support independent inventors throughout the state who are looking at intellectual property as a vehicle for income. The goal is to serve individual inventors with a secondary goal of supporting minority, women, disabled and low-income inventors. And then we linked up with the Lemelson Foundation [which funded MIPO with a $100,000 grant].
Give me an example of how you work with inventors.
One inventor was a paraplegic who came up with an alternative to the leg bag that paraplegics have to use. He invented a device that was contained in the wheelchair. Prior to us spending any money, I went with him to pitch the idea to three medical suppliers.
You asked them if they would sell it ?
Yes. And we got three letters of intent. What special services do inventors need that’s different from your average entrepreneurs?
There’s a whole range of services. Some just need intellectual property services; others need intellectual property and business services. We have a patent researcher who will look at what ideas are out there and we have patent attorneys. And we have an entire design team who will look at the design of the invention. And we look at whether it’s a licensing or a manufacturing deal. Sometimes people come in thinking they want to manufacture their invention and we tell them they’ll need $1 million to start and then they say, “What about licensing?”
Do you help them with a business plan?
That’s my part. I help them figure out if there’s a business there, whether there’s enough of a market. I put all the pieces together. The last part is the finance piece. We have advisers to help with venture capital, angel investing and SBIR grants.
Are these advisers volunteers?
We do not hire volunteers for the crucial parts of our business. Everyone is paid. If you have a volunteer counsel and they make a mistake, you don’t have recourse. One of the benefits of working with us is that these services are provided at a fraction of the cost because we’ve negotiated a below-market price from our providers.
Even discounted, these services have to be expensive. How large is MIPO’s budget?
We have $100,000 to operate for the first year. We’re very creative. Eventually we want to take a small percentage from the income of successful inventors to fund future inventors. And MIPO clients pay annual dues; we want them to have some kind of commitment.
Are you working with inventors groups statewide?
The Portland Inventors Group meets at our office once a month. We’ve been to Coos Bay and Roseburg.
We want to link up with the inventors groups so that we can be a thread to connect them. We’ve still got more road trips to make.
— Christina Williams