NW Innovation Resource Center's new project aims to help inventors

By Jim Davis
The Herald Business Journal

It’s a start-up to help start-ups.

The nonprofit NW Innovation Resource Center is creating a new venture called Slingshot-NW to help inventors and entrepreneurs market whatever they dream up.

Inventors are often “garage geeky guys and girls” who want to make things, but don’t have the desire or experience to sell it, said Diane Kamionka, the executive director of the NW Innovation Resource Center, which helps entrepreneurs throughout northwest Washington.

“Inventors are just not very good marketers,” Kamionka said. “They know their product, but, with rare exception, it’s not what they do to go and sell it.”

So Slingshot is being created as a marketing tool to help these businesses get off the ground.

Bryan Brown, who has been a mentor with the NW Innovation Resource Center for more than a year, has been hired to serve as the executive director for Slingshot.

“If all goes well, their time with Slingshot will be short,” Brown said. “We’ll take them in, find the right market for their product and move them into that bigger marketplace.”

Brown learned about both start-ups and e-commerce while working with software companies in the Seattle and East Side areas.

“I’ve been through the trenches of start-ups and understand how to get from idea to start-up to full blown execution in the marketplace,” said Brown, who now lives in Bellingham.

Slingshot will help inventors and entrepreneurs get their products to the consumers in several ways, Kamionka and Brown said.

First, Slingshot could work with other companies to sub-license a product.

For instance, if an inventor comes up with a better paintbrush, maybe Slingshot works with that person to sub-license the brush to existing painting companies that could manufacture and sell the item.

Another way, Slingshot could help the inventors present the product to as-seen-on TV marketing companies, which have a proven process of getting products into the marketplace not only on television but also in retail stores.

Some budding entrepreneurs may need to demonstrate there’s a demand for their products. Slingshot will also create an e-commerce website.

Slingshot will pay a royalty to the inventors or entrepreneurs for each product sold.

Slingshot will get revenue from sales of the products or sub-licensing fees.

Kamionka sees Slingshot as a natural extension of the NW Innovation Resource Center, which started three years ago to help entrepreneurs in Snohomish, Island, Skagit, Whatcom and San Juan counties.

Those five counties are beginning to form a regional identity, Kamionka said.

There was concern from business people in those counties that entrepreneurial folks were leaving the area.

“You’re kind of boxed in between Vancouver (British Columbia) and Seattle,” Kamionka said. “You’ve got high-tech businesses — huge entrepreneurial success stories in both of those cities and people in the middle who are very innovative. You don’t want to lose those people to the two ends.”

So the NW Innovation Resource Center was born to help mentor entrepreneurs and foster their ideas in the area.

The NW Innovation Center has received grants and donations, including from entrepreneurs it has helped, Kamionka said.

So far, the NW Innovation Resource Center has been working with about 40 inventors and entrepreneurs intensively.

And some of those people have experienced success.

One inventor has created a lighted, electric screwdriver that gets into tight spaces. It’s being sold on the shelves of Lowes, Kamionka said.

Another has made a travel bag that has a fold-out mat that can serve as a sleeping space for babies or toddlers.

Another inventor has come up with a better way to breed geoducks and clams.

The NW Innovation Resource Center is doing important work for this region, said Lanie McMullin, the city of Everett’s economic development executive director.

“When we talk about growing jobs, we’ll always have more success through expansion of business that are already here and growing our own businesses,” McMullin said.

She praised Kamionka for her creativity and expertise at helping entrepreneurs.

“There are so many people out there who have an idea or a product in mind that just needs some help and some structure for their progression and that’s what she offers,” McMullin said.

The NW Innovation Resource Center also helps entrepreneurs and inventors connect them with potential investors.

The group has about 50 people in the region who are willing to consider putting money toward projects.

“They may look at a dozen of them or more before they find one that they like,” Kamionka said.

Slingshot is seen as a final piece of the puzzle toward helping these inventors and entrepreneurs.

Kamionka sees Slingshot NW as a tool for entrepreneurs to consider. It may not be for everybody.

“If they want to do it themselves, we’ll help them do it themselves,” Kamionka said. “If they want to use Slingshot, we’ll introduce them to Slingshot.”

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