Young Kim of Wayne, Pennsylvania, developed and patented a front-wheel-drive mountain bike in March 1999. Although he'd created a prototype, he didn't have the cash to take his product further. Then the 1999 INPEX (Invention/New product Exposition) came to Pittsburgh, and Kim thought he'd found the solution to his problem.
However, it didn't quite work out that way. Kim didn't line up the money he was hoping for at the convention, but he did win a gold medal for his bike and garnered positive feedback from several mountain-bike riders who thought he had a great idea on his hands.
"I talked to several marketers who were also mountain-bike enthusiasts," says Kim. "They loved my product, and though they weren't with companies that could help me, they felt I had a great product and should try to market it."
Frank Hrabar, 42, and his daughter Kristin, 13, of Matawan, New Jersey, had a similar experience at the 1999 U.S. Patent Office Invention Exposition in Orlando, Florida. They made the trek to the show with the expectation of finding a tool manufacturer to take over their invention, an illuminated nut driver. They won first prize for the best invention, and they received positive feedback from people who attended the show, but they didn't connect with a manufacturer interested in licensing their idea.
"Most of the inventions at the show were much more complicated and sophisticated than ours," says Hrabar. "We weren't sure that our invention would get much attention. But Kristen and I knew we had a winner when, during the show, people flocked around our booth and we won an award. The show gave us confidence that we had a winning product."