Bringing bright ideas to life
Pamela Riddle Bird helps inventors market and sell their products
Published: Monday, January 3, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 3, 2005 at 12:57 a.m.
PAMELA RIDDLE BIRD
Founder and chief executive officer of Innovative Product Technologies Inc.
Then envision Uncle Mort heading straight out to his closest Wal-Mart to peddle his invention.
That's not the way it works; there are numerous steps he needs to take first. He needs someone like Pamela Riddle Bird to guide him through the intricate, legally fraught and rejection-filled gauntlet that blocks the pathway from workbench to store shelf. And she has mentored all those aforementioned products, among numerous others, including games, an angled baby-bottle nipple and Safonique, a natural laundry detergent that utilizes natural essential oils to create clothes with aromatherapy.
Bird, 48, has spent the last 25 years helping inventors reach their goal of marketing - or selling off - their product. As the founder and chief executive officer of Innovative Product Technologies Inc. of Gainesville and Sandpoint, Idaho, she is a key player in their technology-transfer process.
She serves as liaison between inventors, funding sources, manufacturers and eventually the stores or sites that carry the gadgets or gizmos. And now, as author of "Inventing for Dummies," which was released this winter, she helps guide others through the rocky path.
"The vast majority (of innovators) are clueless as to where to go," she said recently from her NW 13th Street office. "People come to me and say, 'I have a great idea, where do I go from here? What are the steps in bringing my new product to market?'"
She evaluates the likelihood of an invention's success before devoting a significant amount of time nurturing it. "One of the hardest things I do is tell about 75 percent of my clients to 'stay home - your firstborn is ugly.' If the product has problems, I let them know that up-front. Inventors want to be told how good their product is and that is understandable. I try to let them know what they are up against so they will be prepared to encounter a variety of situations."
She also makes sure inventors, who are high on their idea, undergo reality checks.
"I tell them to ask everyone who told them how wonderful their product is to give them money. Give all of these people the opportunity to invest. Don't deny them this opportunity. On the other hand, you may find out just how wonderful - or not - the product really is," Bird said.
She works with inventors all the way through the process.
"It is a long hard road but a rewarding one. Inventors are unique - they have to be different in order to face the situations they will run into in the market place. There is no easy way out. I have never worked with an inventor that didn't go through a difficult time. Few people truly understand what the inventor goes through when they introduce a new product. Many put everything on the line. "
She has experience in all phases of the commercialization process, from the first bright idea through patenting, research and development and marketing to the product's growth, maturation and - with some - gradual decline and abandonment. Along the way, she relies on personal attention and a whole lot of background work.
"Knowing the contacts is absolutely important. And you need to learn about the industries," she said. "If I am introducing an inventor who is looking for funding to another person to provide it, it's not just 'Hi, how are you.' I clue them in ahead of time, who this person is. And make sure they have a business plan ready.
"When I'm working with national buyers not only do I know that product, but when I go into sales presentations I've got 20 minutes, one time, one shot: Here's the property, intellectual property protection, manufacturer, packaging, shipping, when I can have it delivered and how many there are in a carton. How many do you need? What color? Whose product are you going to pull off the shelf to make room for my client's unproven product, with no advertising budget?
"Successful inventors beat the odds." she continues. "Old statistics stated that 2 percent of the inventions were licensed for royalties and 1 percent made money. New statistics state that 7 percent of the inventions make money. Today, our inventors have more information at their fingertips with the Internet. They also have more resources, training available and are savvy. It is not the typical wire-haired inventor one imagines. Today's inventors are the movers and shakers."
Patricia A. Boswell, formerly of Florida and now living in Bronx, N.Y., developed the Safonique detergent, which earned mention in the first-ever Retailer Choice Awards presented by the national Food Marketing Institute this year.
"I've known Pamela for 13 years now. I met her when she was working with state agencies who help entrepreneurs and we just hit it off. She has mentored me ever since. She's one of these people who continuously motivates me. I am in a hard category, mass-marketing detergent. But she told me to keep going, going, and to get into my niche, and I have found it," Boswell said.
Safonique has now joined giants like Cheer and Tide on shelves at Wal-Marts in the Northeast, as well as large retailers in Chicago and Kroger's and Safeway stores elsewhere in the country. Boswell and Bird are now working on expanding the line to include laundry drying sheets, general cleaning solution, dishwashing detergent and fabric softener.
"You can't do this unless it's satisfying. You have to have a passion for it," Boswell said.
Bird has had business associations with some of the world's leading inventors. Among those serving or having served on IPT's board of advisers are Dr. Robert Cade of Gainesville, inventor of Gatorade; the late Edward Lowe, inventor of Kitty Litter; the late Jay Morton, scriptwriter of Superman and inventor of the "pop-top" aluminum can; Ed Shadd, a member of the development team that created the UPC bar coding system; Jim Fergason, who developed an improved liquid crystal display (LCD) in 1971; and Philip Bart, who holds more than 100 patents.
Probably her most important inventor, and the person to whom she credits her ongoing success, is her own husband: Dr. Forrest M. Bird, who is credited with inventing in 1958 the first highly reliable, low-cost, mass-produced medical respirator in the world, nicknamed "The Bird." His "Babybird" respirator, introduced in 1970, quickly reduced infant mortality for those with respiratory problems from 70 percent to less than 10 percent worldwide, according to Pamela Bird. He is in the Inventor's Hall of Fame.
"Forrest walks 5 miles a day, runs a manufacturing company and flies fixed-wing planes, as well as helicopters, three days a week. We are a great team. He is not only my husband, but my best friend. We bounce ideas off of each other and work side by side. We both love business. I think it's not a venture as many would state, it's an ad-venture," Pamela Bird says.
Pamela Bird said "Inventors have a vision and are truly the ones who change the world. I feel I am so incredibly privileged to have the opportunity for the last two decades to work with those who change the world. Being an inventor is an occupation that can impact the world - they can change history. I think of my husband and his contributions to humanity. I realize how long and hard he works, not because he needs to, by any means, but that is who he is.
"Some inventors not only create a product, they create an industry. Successful inventors don't invent for money - they invent for the love of inventing. They invent, that is what they do."
She is not all business all the time, however. In her free time she flies airplanes, fly-fishes, rides horseback and gardens. The couple divide their time among property near Brooker and homes in Idaho and Palm Springs.
Bird graduated from Gainesville High School and earned a degree in finance and economics from the University of Florida. She got a master's in business administration from the University of North Florida and a doctorate in business administration from California Coast University in Santa Ana.
Bird says she plans to continue her career as long as she can. "If you love what you do, you will automatically be good at it. When I pick and choose the products to work on, it often depends on how much fun I'm going to have doing it."
Marina Blomberg can be reached at 374-5025 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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