Entrepreneurship is all about matchmaking, and the Web site of the quarterly American Venture magazine provides an online yenta service (www.avce.com). The site lists “ventures seeking capital,” divided by industry, region and amount of capital sought. Judging by this and other similar sites, there are a lot more ideas looking for funding than there are dollars looking for ideas.
The fertilizer of money works, however, only if a seed of an idea is in place. Get in the inventive frame of mind at “The Inventure Place” (www.invent.org), which bills itself as a “laboratory where you can explore your curiosity and creativity.” The site includes the full text of a book called The National Inventors Hall of Fame. Scan through the volume’s entries-from air conditioning to optical fiber to zeolite catalysts-to pay the tribute of attention to the men and women who have conceived the high-tech world we live in.
Take a swig of Tang and check out the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s TechTracS site (www.ntas.techtracs.org), which provides links to an array of the space agency’s technologies that are ripe for spinoff. Dining on government leftovers may not seem very ’90s, but the site offers an impressive set of stories chronicling businesses that have taken NASA technologies and run with them. One company, for instance, makes a meat tenderness gauge with technology from the Surveyor lunar lander.
The mother of all invention sites, naturally, is the one operated by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov). The site’s search page, at patents.uspto.gov/access/search-adv.html, lets you hunt for patents by key word. It’s not a comprehensive search-for that, you have to pay a patent attorney-but it gives a quick picture of how original your idea is. Spending much of my working life on the Web, I type “web and search and algorithm” to see what brilliant ideas have been patented for improving this task. To my surprise (and dismay), only one patent appears. The word “mousetrap,” still an emblem of ingenuity, turns up five entries. Navigate your way to the patent office’s weekly Official Gazette at www.uspto.gov/web/offices/com/sol/og/, and browse through recent issues for listing of “Patents Available for License or Sale.” Anyone out there need a “bubble popping device”? There’s a man in Wheatley Heights, N.Y., you should call.