Calling all inventors

By Gus Bode

Carbondale already has its own version of “American Idol,” but this weekend, it will add another show to the list of local reality television events.

The Illinois Small Business Development Center, located at 150 E. Pleasant Hill Road, will host a pre-audition event for ABC’s “American Inventor 2” Saturday. Registration begins at 8 a.m. and the event will run from 9 to 11 a.m.

Robyn Laur Russell, director of the center, said producers contacted her about three weeks ago asking if the center would host an event. Laur Russell jumped at the opportunity, and after working with the Southern Illinois Entrepreneurship Center, decided to host a pre-audition competition.


Saturday’s event is a tune-up for the real auditions on March 31 at Navy Pier in Chicago, and will follow the guidelines of the American Inventor producers, Laur Russell said. According to the American Inventor Web site, the “invention must be a new and useful consumer product that can be produced, marketed and sold in high volume directly to consumers through retail outlets.”

To help budding inventors, Laur Russell said she would give a short presentation providing information, including tips on the tricky application process for the show.

“We have been told by the show personnel themselves that the application is quite complicated, and when you get to Chicago they will not let you go in unless you have that application entirely completed and the form signed and all that,” Laur Russell said.

At the event, contestants will have two minutes to present their invention, and are encouraged to use visual aides and bring a prototype. The inventions will be critiqued by peer reviewers and assessed by a panel of judges – Kyle Harfst, director of the small business incubator program; Jon Greenstreet, CEO of the Arthur Agency; David Wood, a registered patent agent; and Maryon King, associate professor of marketing.

Harfst said the judges would look at five criteria – quality of presentation, visual aides, overall idea, screen presence and ability to answer questions. Because the event is closely related to the show, much of the criteria come from the show’s producers, but the whole idea behind the event is to generate excitement for the show and the inventors, Harfst said.

“What I think it will do is generate inventors either through the university or through the region who say, ‘Hey I’ve got an idea and I’m interested to see what people think of it,'” Harfst said.

Laur Russell said the event has generated a lot of attention already, as the small business center has fielded hundreds of phone calls this week. She said the center might have to have a drawing to see whom can present if too many inventors show up.


There will also be prizes for the top five inventors at Saturday’s event. All five will receive some sort of “inventor’s gift basket” and the top three could receive partial reimbursement for their trip to Chicago, Laur Russell said.

[email protected] 536-3311 ext. 262