When my first book, Can American Manufacturing Be Saved? Why We Should and How We can was published in May 2009, I introduced it as a speaker at the Del Mar Electronics & Design Show in San Diego, CA and displayed it at my company’s booth. One of the persons who stopped by and bought my book was Adrian Pelkus, President of A Squared Technologies, Inc. and leader of a group called the San Diego Inventors Forum. Adrian invited me to the next meeting of the group and I accepted his invitation. Since June 2009, I have regularly attended SDIF meetings and became a board member when it was formally incorporated in 2014. Our meetings provide information that helps inventors take a product from design concept, fundraising, producing, and successfully marketing the product. I give an annual presentation titled “How to Select the Right Processes and Sources for Your Product” and we hold an annual inventors contest with cash prizes. We haven’t held in-person meetings since the COVID pandemic shutdown started in March 2020, but will start meeting again this fall.
In 2018, Adrian and his wife Amy moved to Lexington, South Carolina so he could devote more time to inventing new products. I keep in touch with them and learned that Adrian couldn’t stay away from helping other inventors. Last August, in the middle of the COVID pandemic, he started the South Carolina Inventors Forum using Zoom.
I recently interviewed Adrian to learn more about SCIF. Adrian said,
“After moving here from San Diego and recovering, I decided to build a new inventor nonprofit organization like we had in San Diego. To build new bridges here, I wanted to know and meet “who is who” in town, so I attended a few business group networking events. I discovered 1 Million Cups, which was developed by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in 2012. The name came from the notion that entrepreneurs discover solutions and engage with their communities over a million cups of coffee. 1 Million Cups is a free program designed to educate, engage and inspire entrepreneurs around the country. Through the power of volunteers, 1 Million Cups has grown to more than 160 communities.”
“1 Million Cups works with entrepreneurs, empowering them with the tools and resources to break down barriers that stand in the way of starting and growing their businesses. Mr. Kauffman believed it was a fundamental right for anyone who had a big idea to be able to bring it to life—and we’re here to fulfill that mission.”
I told him I was familiar with the Kauffman Foundation and used their curriculum when I taught high school students how to start their own business as one of the teachers for the Millennium Entrepreneurs after-school program in the early 2000s. I also met the people who headed up the 1 Million Cups program in Fargo, ND in 2017 when I was the guest of the North Dakota Economic Development Department to visit manufacturers to write articles.
I asked how he recruited support for SCIF. Adrian responded. “My decades of trade show and networking meeting experience like at CONNECT taught me to spot the group leaders and that’s how I met Sergio Aparicio, who is Manager of the City of Columbia’s Economic Business Development office. Sergio is also an organizer for the Columbia 1 Million Cups group that was meeting weekly prior to the pandemic at the downtown Richland Library with a 150-seat amphitheater.
He added, “I also met Tom Ledbetter, who is the Associate Vice Provost with the Center for Entrepreneurship and Educational Support at Midlands Technical College. A third organizer I met is Dr. Thaddeus Jones, who is a videographer and producer. I spoke to all of them about the idea of forming a nonprofit organization with the mission to assist inventors with protecting, developing and commercializing their intellectual property through motivation, education, mentoring, a network of local service providers, and national networking opportunities.”
“The main differentiation from the other organizations in town for high tech and business startups was that SCIF is a grassroots way to build a business, encourage entrepreneurship of the everyday citizen at the community level, and the fact that my “curriculum” had been vetted in San Diego over a long period of time. The three of them vetted me and came back eager to assist.
Then, the pandemic came and caused mass business closures everywhere including here in South Carolina. 1 Million Cups stopped meeting, but I decided to go forward and start the SCIF meetings on Zoom. Tom Ledbetter and Dr Jones joined the SCIF Board of Directors. Midlands Technical College helped host and Thaddeus created the videos this first year.”
Adrian said, “I am very grateful Sergio has convinced both the city to support SCIF with a grant and for 1Million Cups to assist our mission as well. 1 Million Cups has secured a new meeting place and in fact hosted our SCIF first Invention Contest in August. At that meeting, I announced that the City of Columbia became our first Gold Sponsor. This contribution is appreciated beyond its monetary amount in that it represents the great connection we have made and how the city supports our SCIF Vision statement:
SCIF will contribute to South Carolina becoming known as an Innovation Hub here in the southeast. Economic development in the South Carolina region depends heavily on entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship depends heavily on creativity and invention. By assisting inventors in leveraging their intellectual property and becoming more entrepreneurial, SCIF will play an important role in furthering South Carolina’s reputation as supporting startups, general creativity, launching quality businesses and creating good paying jobs. SCIF will become a recognized valued partner in South Carolina’s economic re-development.”
I asked about his other networking activities, and he said, “I have busy building connections with GoFundMe and SBA to provide avenues for funding inventors and creative folk from concept to commercialization. I met Valerie Torstenson, Outreach and Marketing Specialist for the South Carolina District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration. She helped SCIF sign a Strategic Alliance Memorandum (SAM) that connects us to the SBA for assistance in getting loans for startups. Valerie will participate in our group meetings and share news, instructions and opportunities from the SBA.”
He added, “During my 13 years running the SDIF, I met individually with over 1500 inventors at my office. The method I created to standardize the interview allowed me to determine in one hour if an idea is feasible, already patented or on the market, what progress had been made, whether the goal is to start a company or license, and how the goal may be accomplished. Along with 37 years running my own company, I benefitted from the experience of joining over 300 people in their quest to become successful entrepreneurs. I also pursued over a dozen of my own ventures and learned that we all had something in common —the need for funds.
With that in mind, I recently spoke with GoFundMe co-founder Andy Ballester and their VIP team about creating a special campaign for finding funds for inventors to test their ideas prior to the company launch. They agreed to do a pilot program to assist many struggling inventors and innovators get started. These funds will allow them to search for IP, file patents, and build prototypes to show for raising capital to launch or license. They are working on putting together a fundraiser creation and how to share guide that will help our members. Our alliance with GoFundMe will be awesome for American inventors and innovators just getting started.”
Adrian said, “SCIF also joined the United Inventors Association of America (UIA). I’ve known Warren Tuttle as Director of the UIA for over a decade and served on the board of the UIA for two years with him. Warren is the author of “Inventor Confidential, the Honest Guide to Profitable Inventing” in which I’m honored to be mentioned. We have been working together to co-create an organization called the UIA-CIO consisting of 20 nonprofit inventor clubs to start that will now be linked coast to coast. We invited Valerie Torstenson to the UIA-CIO inaugural meeting in August to announce our new alliance and was delighted to hear her tell us that she had introduced SCIF to the rest of SBA that day via their internal newsletter.”
I asked Adrian for his parting thoughts, and he said,
“I’ve worked long to protect inventor rights and realize now that it will take a unity of never-before-seen segments of society to restore the patent system to where it was prior to the American Invents Act of 2011. The pandemic has created a swelling of interest in working from home and starting a business for a living to become entrepreneurs. The “industry” of inventing has long been plagued with get rich schemes and people claiming to be gurus and masters of getting a product to market. People I’ve met spent their life savings and many years being misguided and taken advantage by these invention submission companies, phony marketers, and hype hustlers. It must stop! That’s why I am excited about the new collaborations we are establishing with the SBA and crowd funding giant GoFundMe. They may make entrepreneurial pursuits by inventors and innovators a bit easier and more successful.”
I told Adrian that San Diego Inventors Forum is happy to join the UIA-CIO, and we will look forward to participating in the collaborations he has generated to help our local inventors. It will be very beneficial for the clubs in the AIA-CIO to share resources and presentations. I told him that my updated presentation on “How to Select the Right Processes ad Sources for Your Product” has been recorded on Zoom and will be available for viewing for free on September 9th and thereafter at this link.