FLINT, Michigan—One for one.
Population: 100,000. Ideas: 100,000.
With a goal to “relieve the innovator of the entrepreneurial burden,” 100K Ideas fundamentally is working to re-establish the middle class in Flint, the very city that invented the middle class.
David Ollila flips through one of his hundreds of notebooks. Sitting at a table on the second floor of the Ferris Wheel, Ollila, 47, of Linden, is president and chief innovation officer for SkyPoint Ventures and oversees the goings-on of 100K Ideas. He is also a serial entrepreneur, holds several patents and trademarks, and successfully led several products to market (including the first helmet cameras, which preceded GoPro).
Ollila explains 100K Ideas with an analogy.
“Everybody loves chasing the unicorns. They will slaughter all sorts of potential in favor of that unicorn,” he says. “Everyone is running around trying to recreate the next Facebook.”
Instead of capturing mythical unicorns, 100K Ideas focuses on breeding reindeer. “They’re still mystical creatures, but at least they exist,” Ollila says.
Their reindeer are innovative ideas that solve a problem and fit into the market. They create products that are marketable and profitable.
Here, inventors get the guidance and services they need to make their dream a reality.
If—and this is a big if—they make the cut.
All it takes to get started is submitting an application with a small description of the idea. A project manager is assigned to help the innovator and an appointment is set up to talk through the idea to see if it has potential.
“We almost try to kill the idea. We look everywhere we can to see if the product already exists. If it does, how is it different?” explains Program Manager Jessica Judson, 32, of Flint.
If the idea survives, the innovator can continue through the process—which includes creation of an assessment binder. It costs $200 and provides market information for similar products, key demographics, locations for market and an outline of the next steps needed to bring the idea to fruition.
Then, the whole team comes on board. 100K Ideas’ team includes in-house mechanical engineers, mechanical engineers, graphic designers—everything needed to provide the innovator with professional renderings that can be used in production.
The project managers also help the clients create what they call a “hobotype”— a lower-cost version of a prototype. It is an opportunity to check for problems before investing in creation of a more costly prototype.
“All of our projects typically need a mechanical engineer,” says Nick Dinser, 20, of Flint. Dinser, an engineer himself, has been involved with nearly 30 projects at 100K Ideas over the three months that he has been there. “I do things like CAD, build materials, and entry level manufacturing stuff. Developing options for clients to make their own first run.”
A pilot manufacturing run is the goal for the client. Ollila estimates that 5% of all ideas brought to 100K will make it.
Students and recent college grads make up much of the staff at 100K Ideas. Current employees came to 100K Ideas from the University of Michigan-Flint, Kettering University, Michigan State University, and Georgetown University. They fill multiple roles, but most are project managers, ushering clients through the process of bringing an idea to market.
“Young people want to come here to Flint for this experience because this is the first place in the country to do this,” says Ollila. The program at 100K exposes student employees to the process of innovation time and time again—a unique opportunity to develop their own entrepreneurial wherewithal, Ollila says.
“Innovation is not something that just appears on the shelf at Target. There used to be a time when people would make a decision, buy versus build. We are a culture of buy in a town of build.”
The culture is exactly what Ollila aims to change with 100K Ideas. The idea is not just to put a “retail spin” on innovation and invention, but to cause a shift in the culture. The idea is to help regenerate the middle class and to start in Flint.
“The only thing worse than a stolen idea is an idea unexplored,” he says. “One good idea is not enough, which is why we call it 100K Ideas.”
100K Ideas also offers scholarships to help innovators explore their ideas and their dreams.
For more information on 100K Ideas, www.100Kideas.org