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Monday, November 12, 2001

Guideance & Expertise

By DEBI SPRINGER
Special to The Sun

It makes sense that a woman who can fly an aircraft solo and lists trapshooting and downhill skiing as favorite hobbies would own a company that helps inventors commercialize their products, right?

It does if you're Pamela Riddle Bird, founder and CEO of Gainesville-based Innovative Product Technologies Inc., which was started in 1990.

Working between her offices in Sandpoint, Idaho, and Gainesville, Bird counsels inventors about licensing, financing, patent, copyright and trademark laws, pricing strategies, marketing techniques and product structuring. And, she said it is all done in the name of fun.

"Everything that I do in my life is done for fun," Bird said, adding that one of the things she loves about working with inventors is that they love to laugh.

But don't for one minute believe that Bird is all laughs. She has a reputation for being direct and honest with her evaluation of an

inventor's product.

"I have seen more men cry in my office," said Bird. "I give lots of hugs."

Bird said she is doing the inventors a favor by telling it like it is. A former director of the Florida Product Innovation Center in Alachua - the largest publicly funded innovation center in the United States and predecessor to Enterprise Florida - and counselor to inventors and entrepreneurs for more than a decade, Bird said she's developed a good sense of what products are marketable.

"A successful inventor is a person with thick enough skin to handle plenty of turndowns," Bird said. "The way I see it, I am saving them money. I don't want them to spend money on a product that can't be marketed." She added that only one in a hundred patented products will actually make money.

Bird can talk endlessly about how proud she is to work with inventors, but she is equally proud of her company's success.

"There is no debt in my company," said Bird. "I make the majority of my funds from percentages of deals with retailers or major manufacturing companies for patent royalties."

The youngest of eight children, Bird said her mother named her Pamela Sue as a bit of an inside joke. Her initials spell P.S. - although Bird is anything but a postscript.

From time to time, ABC's television show 20/20 calls on her expertise in reviewing national new product developments and commercialization. She contracts with Atico International Inc. to review and evaluate new inventions and technologies. Atico International Inc. sells and distributes products to many companies, including Sharper Image, Wal-Mart, Target Stores, Home Depot, QVC, Home Shopping Network and Sears.

Bird also started the first credit card for inventors by "co-branding" with MBNA Bank, and in 1997 founded the Inventors Educational Foundation. Proceeds from the establishment of the card went to the foundation to fund scholarships, science projects and prizes for young innovators.

"The foundation was on my list of goals to accomplish and I am really proud of it," she said.

Not only does Bird work with inventors - she is friends with many of them. She likes to say that she surrounds herself with "renaissance people who make a difference."

Bird is married to Dr. Forrest Bird, inventor of the first mass-produced medical respirator, and an inductee into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Edward Miller, chairman of Product Center in Miami and a member of the board of directors for Bird's foundation, said Bird is a networker and a remarkable resource for early stage inventors.

"What makes her unique is her extensive education, her perspective after working with so many inventors and her compassion," Miller said.

Miller, who introduced the Space Invaders game to the market, said it is just as important to tell someone why their product won't work as it is to tell them why it will.

"She is compassionate, yet very candid with her evaluations," Miller said.

Richard Porraro, president of Zafar Projects Inc. in Tampa, said he is grateful for Bird's honest look at his products. The two met when Porraro was fresh out of college and starting his own company.

"I was frustrated one afternoon, and I called her," said Porraro. "She had no idea who I was, but she gave me such encouragement that I felt inspired to keep trying."

Porraro's inventions are mostly novelty items and nostalgic toys that can be found at Spencer Gifts and the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.

"All of my success is somehow directly related to the guidance and expertise that she's given to me over the years," Porraro said. "I wish there were 10 more of her."

Bird is currently working on her doctorate in business administration from the University of Florida. She already holds a bachelor's degree in finance and banking and a master's of business administration in economics.

Even with her extensive academic background Bird said she realized she needed to learn more before starting her own company.

When she set out to start her company in 1990, Bird said that she sat in her office and pulled out two yellow legal pads. On one pad she wrote all the things she knew about the business, and on the other she listed all the things she did not know about it.

"There were a few things I knew on one pad, and sheets and sheets of the things I didn't know on the other," Bird said.

When she reviewed how much she didn't know, Bird said, that's when she decided to handpick the people she wanted on the advisory board for her company.

"I wanted to gain knowledge about the business from these men, and perhaps learn from their mistakes," Bird said. "They have all walked across the coals, so to speak."

She likens her work to that of what might have occurred between inventors Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, who were neighbors in Ft. Myers.

"The exchange that went on between those men, the feedback they generated back and forth with each other, is the same type of feedback I give to the inventors I work with," Bird said.

"I think it would have been just plain fun to work with them," Bird said.

Bird said she met her husband in 1995 at Walt Disney World's Epcot in Orlando, where they were guest speakers at a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office convention.

"We like to tell people we were introduced by the mouse," Bird said. "I work continuously. My husband and I are both driven and we want to make a difference in other people's lives."

"A successful inventor is a person with thick enough skin to handle plenty of turndowns. The way I see it, I am saving them money. I don't want them to spend money on a product that can't be marketed."

PAMELA RIDDLE BIRD
President and CEO of Innovative
Product Technologies Inc.

 
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