Norm Schroeder: “Build your business plan”

If possible, the first thing needed is a working model to verify that it works to your satisfaction. If the inventor needs to seek consultants and engineers to do this, go to the patent attorney first. The patent attorney can give you proper advice regarding confidentiality. Trusting others can vary depending on where you operate. […]

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If possible, the first thing needed is a working model to verify that it works to your satisfaction. If the inventor needs to seek consultants and engineers to do this, go to the patent attorney first. The patent attorney can give you proper advice regarding confidentiality. Trusting others can vary depending on where you operate. Be sure to find a patent attorney with lots of patent experience and specializes in intellectual property.

As a part of our series called “Meet The Inventors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Norm Schroeder.

Norm enjoyed a wide ranging innovative career in engineering, manufacturer’s agent, farming, and as an entrepreneur. As an engineer, Norm was an innovator on projects that became part of history. He invented special equipment preparing the launch of the first astronaut into space and later invented the quality control test equipment for production of the first Light Emitting Diodes ever marketed. Norm retired from engineering and became a manufacturer’s agent for many years. Over the years, he went on to farming, became an entrepreneur, and served as the Executive Director of a State Association.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I was raised in a rural area west of St. Louis County and shall never forget how I loved to ride the 1901 vintage trolley to and from school every day. This trolley was a real hoot for a 6 year old boy starting school. The trolley was a major means of transportation for us. It had been a popular ride to a recreation area during the 1908 World’s Fair. The trolley would growl and rattle as its electric motor gained speed while it rocked with heads bobbing back and forth all the way. Making frequent stops the conductor’s bell dinging along the way, each stop ended with a loud screech.

I also remember as a young lad, that I seemed to never have enough time to do all the things I wanted to do. I liked to take things apart to see how they worked and usually was able to put them back together.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My parents always insisted that we treat others and others’ property with respect. They taught us to treat people as we would want to be treated. In so many ways, our world would be a better place if everyone would do this simple thing. I believe the Golden Rule is the most important rule for anyone.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

“Psycho-cybernetics” by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. In his book, Dr. Maltz teaches us techniques to control and use our subconscious mind to overcome unwanted habits, help in achieving our goals, and to improve our lives. Using this information in this excellent book, I was able to quit smoking. It is a powerful book.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How can a potential inventor overcome this challenge?

As I grew older, I experienced serious pain, odd feelings, and twitching in my legs at night. The prescription drugs for my condition produced serious unwanted side effects. I tried everything out there for the pain while my condition grew steadily worse. It finally reached a point where the lack of sleep was seriously affecting my health. I began researching and analyzing my leg condition. After a time, I visualized a medical device that could relieve my symptoms and so I built a prototype. It worked extremely well, so well in fact that my pain and symptoms were relieved in minutes. I was amazed at how well it worked. This became the first prototype of the Solis Pain Relief System®.

Using my prototype, I was able to sleep great again every night and feel good all day. After a period of time enjoying my new life, both my wife and I had this haunting feeling that we were the only ones able to benefit with this device while there are millions of others suffering with similar pain and symptoms.

We felt there was no choice but to share this invention with the world. At age 73, and with the help of some outstanding friends and citizens, we formed Mid-America Medical Innovations, LLC. With the aid of an FDA Consultant, Patent Attorney, local FDA manufacturer, and some physician friends, we researched the history and all the medical knowledge pertaining to this device.

We engaged our patent attorney to prepare the patent applications in several countries and our selected FDA Consultant began gathering information for the FDA application. With the help of local doctors, our FDA manufacturer, and the engineering consultants, we completed our first production Solis units. Three of them were sent to an FDA approved laboratory for FDA testing of safety, reliability, performance. This testing included all the other FDA testing parameters needed for FDA Clearance. All of our submitted units easily passed FDA testing. The FDA Consultant prepared the application to FDA and it was submitted. From the time of the invention to FDA Clearance for Rx Only marketing, nearly three and one half years had passed.

We then launched our Rx Only sales program. Doctors gathered patient data and conducted clinical studies. All these efforts confirmed our initial judgment that Solis is an excellent choice as a drug free alternative for large numbers of people with serious pain.

During this time, we had some truly heartwarming experiences with patients with very serious problems. I remember the time a nurse was brought to tears after she successfully used Solis to relieve a patient’s permanently cramped muscles. She had been in constant pain for nearly 20 years due to her cramped muscles. After treatment with Solis, this patient was able to walk again without a crutch for the very first time in nearly 20 years. We have many heartwarming stories like this and where patients were able to “get their life back” using Solis.

After gaining years of clinical experience, our FDA Consultant completed the application to FDA for OTC Clearance. Six month later, FDA Cleared Solis for Over The Counter marketing without prescription and Solis is available today at .

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

I recommend any inventor do a thorough search of the internet first before going to see a patent attorney. I remember the time that I designed a device to bring in weak distant AM radio signals to use while we were on family camping trips. I was not interested in marketing this device but it worked very well. Sometime later out of curiosity, I searched the internet, and found a patented device exactly like mine for sale. Had I seen it earlier, I would have bought it and not invented my own.

The patent attorney and my personal attorney gave me most of the needed guidance for selecting a manufacturer, the next steps needed, and the many problems of introducing a new product to the world. I suggest that anyone seek advice from their patent attorney. The attorney’s helped me with finding people that I could trust to handle the job. With their help and my experience I found the solutions and people needed to move forward.

After I made contact with a manufacturer, I was able to better see the true scope of the entire project in much more detail. Sales will likely be the biggest challenge and the manufacturer, may be able to help with this too.

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps that one should go through, from when one thinks of the idea, until it finally lands on the store shelves? In particular we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

Step 1: Search the internet for similar items. Make sure your device is unique. While I was working as an engineer, I invented things for others. After that, I invented things for my own use and would build a prototype. I would recommend that others build a prototype if appropriate. That way, you can show you patent attorney how your invention works.

Step 2: If you feel that your item is unique and you want to bring it to market, see a trusted patent attorney. Choose one that handles Intellectual Property exclusively and has extensive experience with patents.

Step 3: Before disclosing the patent to manufacturers or potential competitors, secure patent insurance.

Step 4: Build your business plan.

Step 5: Find a manufacturer. This is not easy. Your patent attorney may have some leads for you. My preference would be to seek a company run by the founder or owner with annual sales of 25–50 Million dollars. With FDA devices, you would need an FDA Contract Manufacturer that has FDA approval for your type device.

Step 6: Set up marketing. Your patent attorney may have some leads for you. This can be very expensive depending on the product. Find professional people with experience in selling your type device. There are usually many ways to sell a product and people in your particular arena would know best which way might be best for you.

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

If possible, the first thing needed is a working model to verify that it works to your satisfaction. If the inventor needs to seek consultants and engineers to do this, go to the patent attorney first. The patent attorney can give you proper advice regarding confidentiality. Trusting others can vary depending on where you operate. Be sure to find a patent attorney with lots of patent experience and specializes in intellectual property.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

My opinion on this would depend on several things: (1) the amount needed to bring the product to market. (2) The talent needed to develop and bring the product to market. It would depend on the nature of the product. If additional talent is needed, there could be money available directly from the talent to help assist with the success of the project.

This decision could also depend on the nature of the product and the market for the product. If it is a product that is of interest to Venture Capital Funds, they might provide talent plus a number of needed services to bring the product to market.

I would suggest that inventors get an opinion on this from their attorney or other trusted professionals that know the inventor’s particular situation.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1: I wish someone had reminded me that I was starting a new career at age 73. Bringing a new product to market is not a short term experience. Fortunately, I have excellent partners who can handle everything and I am blessed with fairly good health for my age. Everything went well for us in this regard.

2. An inventor should build a product business plan as early as possible. You can change and improve the plan as you go forward. Include the status on the patents, engineering, manufacturing, and marketing. I can see many areas where time and money was wasted due to our lack of a good business plan.

3: Each manufacturer has their own existing business and if their existing business substantially increases they could have insufficient manufacturing capacity to handle your product. We observed some serious delays due to manufacturing capacity issues.

4: With medical devices, do not proceed without consulting with a doctor. It is very important to find the right FDA Consultant before you start. FDA has very competent personnel handling their applications. You will need a very competent FDA Consultant with the right experience for your product. We were fortunate to find a competent FDA Consultant but our patent attorney said that this is not usually the case and causes most failures with medical devices.

5. Marketing and advertising agencies are focused on selling their client’s products. We hired a local advertising and marketing agency for our local efforts. They are the best in our area but not focused on national sales. When marketing nationally, it is necessary to find an agency with national marketing clients who are focused on national sales.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

A: From the very beginning, I was concerned that I share Solis with others in need. Solis helps people with pain live a much better life. I use mine every day and do not know how I could manage my life without Solis.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Everyone is born with different physical and mental assets. I would develop a system of education and ideas that provides ways for everyone to be the best they can be. People who give 100% effort on everything they do are much happier and better equipped to take on life’s challenges. They are also better able to provide help to others who are unable to help themselves.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

Elon Musk is an very interesting guy. He is successful in both the electric auto industry and now also the space industry, at a relatively young age. I am interested in knowing how this gentleman could accomplish all this.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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