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Electrical engineer Will Rottenberg tinkers with the circuits of an mp3 player as he constructs a new invention. Rottenberg has spent the last 20 years inventing thanks in part to Durango’s Inventors’ Boot Camp./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

Durango’s mother of invention

Inventors’ Boot Camp lends help to local creators
by Malia Durbano

Everyone has had that fabled million-dollar idea. But who has ever actually done anything to follow through? A few brave Durango souls are actually out there investing time, energy and brain cells to create prototypes and apply for patents for their ideas and inventions, thanks in part to the Fort Lewis College’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and its Inventors’ Boot Camp.   
Paul Conrady, an aspiring inventor and former airline pilot, is struggling to move forward with his secret invention. With the help of his patent attorney, he applied for a patent in 2009 but has still not received a reply from the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. That delay is the biggest obstacle to innovation in the United States, he said. “The estimated wait of approximately four years to get a reply puts independent inventors like me in limbo.”
Conrady always liked solving problems and is a do-it-yourselfer. “Finding a better way to do things is almost like a hobby,” he said. He had a few meetings with Joe Keck of the SBDC, where he learned about Inventors Boot Camp.  
The Boot Camp, which is co-sponsored by the SBDC, brings Rita Crompton, of the Inventors Roundtable, in from Denver to help local inventors navigate the complicated and arduous process.
 “We provide a safe place where inventors can get advice and learn about the process,” Crompton said. “We provide resources to help inventors avoid pitfalls. Getting together with other inventors and sharing experiences is invaluable.”

Local inventor Will Rottenberg shows off a vintage 1970s 1MB hard disk. Rottenberg’s first invention was teaching tool to help doctors learn how a pacemaker works./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

Crompton added that successful inventors share three traits – inspiration, motivation and creativity. “Once they have those, we provide support in the form of helping with the patent search, locating a licensing agent, protecting their intellectual property, acquiring trademarks and patents, then help with financing and getting the products to market,” she said.
To help local inventors out of the school of hard knocks, Durango patent attorney Ken Freudenberg contributes his expertise. Lecturing through the SBDC, he demystifies issues like “intellectual property” by providing interesting real-life examples and hypothetical situations. He answers students’ basic questions, connects them with the right resources, and provides guidance regarding trademarks and patents.
Conrady first attended the Boot Camp in June of 2010, thinking the class would improve his odds. “The classes were very entertaining and
educational and gave me insight into how to be a profitable inventor,” he said. “I got a lot of value from it.”
One of the most important concepts he took away from the class is the importance of having your patent attorney work with the engineer. “The description of the product in the application has to be extremely precise,” he said. “The patent is the inventor’s legal right to the invention.”
Will Rottenberg, another aspiring inventor, also took advantage of some of the programs offered by the roundtable. He’s been trying his hand at inventions since 1985 and decided to get some formal help with the process. His first invention was a teaching tool that acted like a patient, so doctors could learn how a pacemaker works. It was a short-lived project that he eventually sold off.
As an electrical engineer, most of Rottenberg’s inventions are very specialized. He has sold a couple of units, but has yet to hit the big time and
tap large markets. Since he already knew about the patenting process, he gained value in the classes by learning about the marketing and manufacturing aspects of inventing. “The classes helped by really providing an overview of the whole process, with ideas on where to get started,” he said.
Another one of his inventions was an electric light teaching tool that did not take off. “That one didn’t work – some do, some don’t.  Some projects like this one, took just a few weeks to design.  Some take six months to a year to develop,” he explained.
Although it can be time consuming and frustrating, Rottenberg likes the creativity of inventing. Eventually, he hopes to be self-employed and working full time to hatch new ideas. But, like most inventors, Rottenberg has learned that it takes deep pockets to get your product to market.
Bayfield inventor Brian Koehn got so much value from his first experience at Inventors Roundtable, that he did it again about two years ago. “There were different speakers and different topics covered in the second one,” he said. “The speaker really inspired me. He had been involved in many inventions and was knowledgeable with practical experience.
Koehn is now past the “breadboard” stage of actually demonstrating that his concept is sound.  He is now developing a prototype for a product that will help people with cisterns measure the water level without having to go outside to put a stick in their tank. “It will be especially convenient in the winter, when they won’t have to shovel the snow away from the top of the tank,” he said.  
Determined to be self-employed as a full-time inventor, local William Holden has been at it for 11 years.  His biggest success story is a paper towel holder that sold 260,000 units. He has a few products in the works and a few that he’s let go. “Inventors just need a lucky break,” he said.
“It’s so hard to get products manufactured at a low enough price so that you can make a profit selling them at a reasonable retail price point.”
Holden is now taking a more direct route to the market and is advertising his products on Direct Response TV. “The percentage is very low of products that actually make it to market.  It can be very frustrating, but it’s like a disease,” he said.
Every time you use a kitchen gadget or electronic device, consider the creative mind that first came up with that idea and had the fortitude, perseverance and patience to pursue it. One might also consider a quote from another notable inventor, Thomas Edison: “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

For more information visit: www.Inventors  or


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