Start-up tips for business offered at conference
WORTHINGTON -- For anyone interested in starting a business of any kind, the eighth annual Regional Bioscience Conference would have been a good place to be Thursday afternoon.
"Launching a New Business: Navigating the Mine Field" offered conference attendees expertise in protecting intellectual property, business plan writing and raising capital from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Biotechnology Advancement Center. The two-day conference, which continues today from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., is coordinated by Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp.
The intellectual property portion of Thursday afternoon's seminar, which presenter Sean Solberg described as Patents 101, encompassed a 30-minute synopsis of how an inventor goes about pursuing a patent and what sorts of considerations should be made.
"A patent only gives you the right to stop others from making, using or selling your invention," said Solberg, a patent attorney at Davis Brown Law Firm in Des Moines, Iowa, during the opening moments of his presentation. "It gives the inventor a monopoly for 20 years."
Patent-seekers may file provisional or non-provisional applications, Solberg said. A provisional application, he noted, "is merely a stake in the ground" normally used by universities and start-up companies, that essentially provides up to a year to prepare and file a non-provisional application.
"Claims define the subject matter covered (in the patent) ... and can be thought of an empty cardboard box, defining boundaries," Solberg explained.
Those boundaries, he said, define a difference between patentability and freedom-to-operate, he continued.
An inventor could create, for example, a sample stent with three specific components and receive a patent, but another could create a drug-eluting stent with the same three components, plus a fourth, and also receive a patent.
Patentable subject matter, said Solberg, is "anything man-made under the sun." Key considerations include novelty and non-obviousness, a condition "where most of the fights occur," he said.
Businesses, particularly those in the process of launching, should be sure to have specific language ensuring intellectual property ownership, Solberg added. Commonly, when a company employee invents something as part of his or her work, that invention becomes the company's intellectual property.
Solberg also noted the federal Patent Reform Act, which takes effect next year, transforms the U.S. from a country where the first to invent earns a patent to a nation where the first to file for the patent earns it.
"There is a race to file patent applications now ... and bigger companies will have the advantage," he said.
Tom Byrne, for his portion of the session, described the elements of a good business plan. He is the founder of Byrne & Co. Ltd., which is based in Preston and most recognized for its work in renewable energy product development and management.
"Business plans are living, breathing documents -- your business' resume," he said. "The real value is the thought you need to put into your business to build a good business plan."
A business plan's executive summary should be as specific as possible, Byrne stressed.
"Investment groups, investment individuals ... have many specific areas in which they invest," he said, "The executive summary should reveal if it's in or out of their wheelhouse. It's essentially their elevator speech."
A general company description should include a mission statement that "should be 30 words or less, and everybody should be able to recite it off the top of their head," Byrne noted. In addition to describing the planned products and services -- as well as acknowledging competitive advantages and disadvantages and detailing a pricing structure -- a marketing plan must be given strict attention.
"A lot of inventors say, 'This is so good, it's going to sell,'" Byrne said, "But while 'If you build it, they will come' may work for baseball fields in Iowa, it simply doesn't that work that way (for new businesses)." Marketing plan components should include market research, industry and project-specific research, economic facts about the particular industry, product, customers, competition, strategy, budget and a sales forecast, he stated.
An operation plan should take into account "an operational cycle from the time you start spending money to the time you start depositing money in your account," Byrne added. Other business plan considerations should be details about management and organization, start-up expenses and capitalization, and a financial plan.
"Be realistic -- this is a key area to determine if you should really get into the business, Solberg said, citing the adage, "I don't care if you lie to the bank, but don't lie to yourself."
The final component of Thursday afternoon's "Launching" session were remarks by the Minnesota Angel Network's Todd Leonard and an accompanying documentary, "Something Ventured."
Sessions scheduled for today at the conference include an 8:45 a.m. presentation by Gene Goddard of Greater Minneapolis St. Paul Regional Economic Development, "Regenerative Therapies" from 9:45 to 11 a.m., project displays by students in the Worthington Middle School Science Club from 11 to 11:30 a.m., and "Innovative Strategies for Food & Fuel Replacements" from 12:30 to 2 p.m.
Daily Globe Managing Editor Ryan McGaughey can be reached at 376-7320.