Where ideas happen

Jen Wagemann had an idea. What she needed were ideas on how to make it happen.

She’s the founder of Spinning Speakers, a Lansing-based startup that hopes to make hula hoops with Bluetooth speakers built into the tube. Helping her move the concept toward becoming a tangible product were the folks at Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP).

“I immediately called LEAP and told them the idea, and they were able to give me a few resources – an engineer that I ended up working with at a very, very low cost. If it wasn’t for that engineer, I never would have really started to get Spinning Speakers off the ground,” Wagemann said. “And I never would have met the engineer if it wasn’t for LEAP.”

Without such assistance, “I would be running into a lot of problems, because Google searches only go so far,” Wagemann said. “It really helps to know people in Michigan that know other people in Michigan.”

In hopes of pairing mid-Michigan entrepreneurs and inventors with the right resources in the region, this past fall LEAP partnered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for a one-day seminar in East Lansing to help in protecting and promoting intellectual property.

The event was meant “to bring access and convenience to our population here in the Lansing region,” said Tony Willis, director of LEAP’s new economy division. “They have a need to learn more about intellectual property, how to secure and protect their idea or to (get a) patent, trademark or the like.”

There are many inventors in the region; everyone from tinkerers in their garages to researchers in higher learning.

“The Lansing area is abundant with creative ideas from the regional community and Michigan State University,” Dave Posigian, a patent examiner with the USPTO, said in a prepared statement. “One of our goals is to ensure that we are proactively reaching those entrepreneurs so they have the best chance of success.”

The event was the second annual LEAP/USPTO event in the Greater Lansing area, said James O. Wilson, the assistant regional director of the USPTO’s Midwest office in Detroit. Also on hand were representatives from the Michigan Small Business Development Center and Foster Swift, a local law firm.

“Knowledge is power. This is a big grey area. Sometimes, processes can be intimidating if you don’t know about them,” Willis said. “It definitely makes them more wise on what they’re going to pursue, how they’re going to pursue it, how much time and work they’re going to put into it.”

While creating a culture of understanding to drive business practice forward, beyond the initial conceptual phases is one thing many entrepreneurs aren’t provided the inside knowledge and know-how to effectively communicate with potential investors and stakeholders to obtain invaluable, often essential resources. Bringing the right people face-to-face is often all it takes for economic growth and opportunities to take on infancy.

“One of the things we really, really want to do is we want to link our stakeholders with our resources. We want to educate the public with regard to what’s available,” Wilson said. “Our mission is to foster innovation and competitiveness and economic growth in not only the United States but throughout the world, globally … our goal is to bring high-level people into local environments to provide expert opinion.”

Wagemann said collaborative events and the ability to network with fellow entrepreneurs and different legal and regulation experts keep her coming back; it has all given her the confidence to protect her ideas and stay local. She hopes to have her hoops on the market by spring’s end.

“Lansing does have a lot to offer. I think Michigan as a whole has a lot to offer,” Wagemann said. “I think we are all very supportive of supporting local, and I think that’s a beautiful thing.”
Ultimately, the goal of such partnerships is to ensure Michigan ideas and inventors result in Michigan businesses, jobs and wealth.

In hopes of giving entrepreneurs a one-stop shop in planning the transition from idea to industry, LEAP is providing a “Start Chart.” Launched in late 2017, it includes a resource guide and worksheet on everything inventors should think about while developing their idea and working to bring it to market, according to Willis.

The Start Chart is free and available at purelansing.com/startchart. Willis encourages entrepreneurs to subscribe to LEAP’s weekly newsletter, too; sign-ups are available at purelansing.com. Plus, inventors need not wait for such events to pick brains at the USPTO. The agency offers resources on its website at uspto.gov and by phone at 1-800-786-9199.

“We are available,” Wilson said. “If a question is posed, we are prepared to provide an answer.”

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Omar Sofradzija

Omar Sofradzija

Omar Sofradzija is an adjunct journalism instructor at Michigan State University. Prior to that, he was a columnist and reporter at the Las Vegas (Nev.) Review-Journal, where he covered the development and launch of that city's Metropolitan Area Express (MAX) bus rapid transit system and the Las Vegas Monorail.

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