NIU: An Interview with Management at Rev3 Innovation Center

Written by: Joshua Hertz

Innovative Spirit Alive and Well in the U.S.

According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, there were a total of 609,052 patent applications in 2013, a 66% increase from the total applications a decade ago in 2003. Year in and year out, patent applications of all types including design patents, utility patents and patents of both U.S. and foreign origin have been on the rise. There is no question that there is an innovative spirit in the private sector that could very well be the traction needed in an economy that is otherwise stuck in a rut.

Not all innovators are blessed with the knowledge and resources needed to see the day when their concepts are finally marketed on store shelves. Innovators are faced with many questions like “is there a proven way to successfully market intellectual property to companies that are better suited to facilitate the production and sale of those inventions?” Innovators also wonder where they can go to develop prototypes and collaborate with fellow innovators to further enhance their ideas. Many metropolitan areas have seen a rise in “incubators” where innovators can go to accomplish many of the tasks that are part of the invention process.

Opportunity for Rev3 Innovation Center in Chicago's west suburbs

Presently, there are 65 such incubators in the city of Chicago, but Bryan Gay and Nicholas Zito of the economic development organization called Choose DuPage recognized a void in the surrounding suburban area where only 2 incubators are available. Bryan and Nicholas are joint Project Managers at Rev3 Innovation Center, and are fast at work watching Rev3 develop into the first manufacturing and innovation incubator in DuPage County. Bryan was recently featured on Comcast Newsmakers discussing the great opportunities at Rev3, and neither Nicholas nor Bryan showed any reluctance in offering a personal interview and walkthrough of the new Rev3 facilities. And why would they? It is a shore bet that Rev3 will prove to be a dynamic service yielding authentic growth in the surrounding business community… or at least that was the impression that Bryan and Nicholas gave. You can be the judge of this by reading the next several paragraphs, which are an account of the recent interview regarding the exciting new Rev3 Innovation Center.

Just as innovators are encouraged to research the feasibility of their idea before sinking financial resources into its development, before developing the innovation center, Rev3 management conducted a “Feasibility Study” to determine the community’s need for such a service and whether it could be financially supported. The findings yielded a unanimous resound: Launch. Reason being that innovative “freelancers”, of sorts, were routinely making a two hour commute into the city from the suburbs to develop their concepts at incubator locations closer to the lake. Nicholas mentioned that these freelancers were often from the technology sector. Rev3 was essentially built around two basic concepts that the center could help retain these migrating technology professionals in the suburbs, and that it could accommodate a local manufacturing industry that is currently at a 5% vacancy. Bryan mentioned that, after 4 months of considering the findings from the feasibility study, it was determined in October 2013 that there was a substantial need for the center and that it could be feasibly supported through state and local funds.

From walking the grounds at Rev3, one thing is certain: that it will be a relatively expensive project. This brings about the question of, “where will the client base come from to substantiate the project?” Nicholas mentioned that Rev3 is anticipating essentially a 50/50 split in their client base between tech and manufacturing: Mobile App and Web development on the tech side, with multiple different areas of manufacturing that can be accommodated.

Based on management enthusiasm and a walkthrough of the facilities, one other thing is almost certain: other DuPage County communities outside of Naperville may have a demand for a local incubator. Is there any plan for potential expansion? In answering this, Bryan referred back to the feasibility study stating that, once the recipe at the developing Naperville facility is right, there is a lot of room to share it and potentially expand into the other 38 sections of DuPage County. Aside from geographical expansion, Bryan mentioned that Rev3 has a vision that includes future specialized services for other industries including Finance, Healthcare, and Real Estate.

Nicholas also seemed enthusiastic about the prospect of expansion. While the lights have only been on at Rev3 for a couple of months, inevitable findings will identify concentrated areas in DuPage County where there is a hyper-local demand for specialized services. Nicholas mentioned that, if there are hypothetically a lot of professionals looking to pursue Application Development in the Elmhurst area, Rev3 and affiliates are confident that support is available for another facility needed to meet that hypothetical demand.

So, what exactly does Rev3 plan to specialize in? Taking an idea and bringing it to market is a multifaceted process, and your average laymen struck with an innovative concept may need a significant amount of assistance in order to accomplish that feat. This being said, what facet of the process does Rev3 plan to specialize in; or will Rev3 be an all-encompassing service? Bryan identified the community aspect and mentorship as Rev3’s “secret sauce” in their service recipe. He mentioned that many innovators in the city are already very much connected. But in the suburbs, which are not nearly as concentrated and populous, building a network in order to see innovative dreams realized can be a daunting task. While offering tangible resources needed for building prototypes is certainly going to be a central service, Rev3 will prove to be the right outlet to plug into in order to build a powerful network and see innovative projects completed.

In response, Nicholas provided an example of the unique networking aspects that come with Rev3 membership. One of the very first Rev3 clients was a financial service that, from day one, made it clear that they were looking for contacts that might help market their services in an innovative way. This financial entity was immediately put in contact with the right local resource to help market the finance entity’s new service of currency exchange from the dollar to a host of foreign denominations. Yet, it was ironically the personal collaboration with another fellow Rev3 client that really got the wheels spinning for this finance company. Yes, they were put in contact with a local, innovative marketing resource, but it was the personal interaction with another client specializing in foreign translation services that really turned the light bulb on for the finance company. Through that unique partnership, they expanded their network in order to market services to niche parts of the community speaking English as a second language.

So far, Rev3 proves to be a valuable asset connecting the local innovation ecosystem. But, how is their service being marketed? How did it start from the ground up? As for how Rev3 is marketing itself, Bryan mentioned their “virtual launch” as a key contributor. At first, Rev3 was primarily marketed through word of mouth and through this virtual launch which was essentially conducted using social media. On the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of every month, “Rev3 Talks” would be hosted on social media. This was essentially how word spread about the new innovation center. From there, a newsletter list of over 600 email addresses, and utilization of the networking “darling” evolved into a high demand for Rev3 services. Personalized Rev3 office space, use of the upcoming manufacturing lab for prototype development, innovation networking assistance, and mentorship are all offered to clients for as little as $200 a month. This focus on grass-roots, local innovators has led to over 200 current Rev3 members.

Alright, Rev3 has an extensive menu of product development services, but protecting intellectual property can be a path filled with many legal and financial land mines. How does Rev3 assist local innovators in navigating through the legal and financial aspects of innovation? Nicholas gave an impressive account of their CPA’s and legal counsel that are available at Rev3 in order to steer innovators during the early stages of product development and beyond. Nicholas pointed out that, past prototyping, drafting of disclosure documents, and the like, Rev3 can provide insight on how to structure a new business entity: whether to be an S-Corp or C-Corp, whether to provide dividends, whether to pursue equity investments, assistance in navigating taxing structures, etc.

Even still, innovators may have questions before making a financial commitment to developing their ideas. New innovators might be bashful wondering, “how do I know that my concept is legitimately marketable?” They may also contemplate whether there intellectual property is valuable to a corporation that would hypothetically purchase the invention in order to facilitate the production and sale of it. How might Rev3 help dictate this? Nicholas answered this question by mentioning Rev3’s asset called the “Product Kickstarter Group” which provides brutally honest assessments of concept feasibility in order to ensure Rev3 clients that their pursuit is marketable before faced with the prospect of sinking thousands of dollars into the project’s development.

To go even further, there was a question thrown out there on whether Rev3 went beyond mentoring during project development to helping innovators network with organizations that may express interest in acquiring developed intellectual property. Nicholas answered mentioning that this definitely fell within the realm of services at their incubator, and likened it to a “Demo Day” or a “Widget Pitch” where prospective buyers may attend a presentation of intellectual property marketed for sale. In turn, Bryan mentioned that Rev3 will be hosting the West Suburban Angels “that are part of the local innovation ecosystem that is injecting cash into small businesses”… with new, profitable concepts. Bryan also spoke to “accelerators” which are entities that Rev3 members are connected to that fund innovators, often times in excess of 25 to 50 thousand dollars, in order that they may conduct a concentrated, 6 month development of their concept in an incubator with the expectation that the innovator will then go and seek out financing to either incorporate or sell off their intellectual property to an acquiring corporation.

It seems that incubators such as Rev3 cannot help but attract corporations eager to purchase intellectual property produced by innovative clients. Nicholas mentioned the ever-present “synergy” expressed by corporations that will, in fact, come into Rev3 to identify intellectual property development that has marketable potential. Nicholas mentioned that roughly 70% of the intellectual property that is developed is acquired by corporations that have the unique resources to facilitate the production and sale of the product or service. Given that majority, Rev3 is well equipped to connect its innovative client base with the resources needed to explore the options of either holding onto their end result through incorporation or selling off the rights of development to an organization that may be better suited to facilitate its production and sale.

So, there you have it. Based on Bryan Gay and Nicholas Zito’s sharp responses to the everyday innovator’s questions, the Rev3 Innovation Center seems to truly be an all-encompassing facility. Many incubators, like those on the west and east coast, are available in Chicago. Suburban innovators can rest assured that there is no commute into the city needed in order to have your innovative dreams realized. The Rev3 Innovation Center, at the Naperville Northern Illinois University campus, is eager to assist the DuPage County and other suburbanites contribute their developments to the private sector.