Redwood Falls event has rich history

By Dee Goerge

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. — The original skidsteer loader. The minnow bucket. The Quick-Tack 3-point hitch. All deputed at the Minnesota Inventors Congress Expo in Redwood Falls.

Deb Hess, executive director of the MIC, wants to hear about those and other success stories as the organization plans its 50th expo, June 8-10.

She wants to showcase past inventions as well as educate new inventors who attend the show.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

"Hearing about inventors’ success stories is just the evidence people are looking for to help them make a decision about exhibiting," Hess said. "Our mission is to help educate inventors and direct them to reliable resources for the best decision making."

MIC doesn’t sell marketing services; it provides good information to help inventors avoid scams. The expo is the world’s oldest, continuous invention convention and has had more than 4,500 inventors show more than 5,000 inventions over the years.

Farmers and residents of Redwood County held the first MIC expo in 1958 on the fairgrounds. The goal was to showcase inventors and lure manufacturers to the area so that young people didn’t have to go to the metro area to work.

The first year, 181 inventors brought 263 inventions. MIC had a couple of big supporters

Gov. Orville Freeman and WCCO agriculture broadcaster Maynard Speece, who promoted a radio contest called "What things would you like to see invented?’’

The event grew, and helped create new manufacturing jobs In 1962, farmer Lyle Stevermer won the grand championship for his metered grain weigher for hog feed — a big improvement from estimating each scoop at 20 pounds. He went on to create Meter-Man Inc., which manufactures 20 different products in 36 countries. His family business fills seven buildings in Winnebago.

Education has always been part of the Congress, said Hess. Along with displaying their inventions at the expo, inventors can attend seminars that take them through the entire process of patents, marketing and manufacturing. Product scouts also attend the expo, looking for inventions to represent or manufacture.

The response that inventors receive from the public attending the show is also valuable, Hess said.

Sometimes they learn that they shouldn’t invest more time and money in their invention. Inventors have come from throughout the country to be part of the MIC.

Thanks to state funding, inventors have year-round access to Hess and the MIC for information and referrals.

Hess noted she recently received an e-mail from a past exhibitor who plans to show a new product at the 2007 Expo.

Inventions run the gamut of agriculture, health, household, personal, sports and recreation, Hess said. Last year’s grand-prize winner was an amphibious motorized icehouse. The second-place winner was the Safeloader, with a safety device to protect the loader and operator when the bucket hits an immovable object.

"There‚s no way of knowing one year from the next, what will be featured," Hess said.

Last year, inventors had an additional opportunity for exposure. Jay Leno’s "Pitch to America" series filmed the event. A couple of the inventions were featured on Leno’s March 13 show.

Hess doesn’t know if that will happen again this year, but because it’s the 50th event, there will be plenty of displays and workshops.

An average of 100 inventors have attended the MIC in recent years, including students who are part of the Minnesota Student Inventors Congress. This is the 20th anniversary of the student event.

The expo hasn’t lost the hometown feel. In evaluations from exhibitors, one of the most frequent comments is how welcome the inventors feel, Hess said.

"The small town flavor is one of our biggest assets," she added. "It’s genuine. Our goal is to help them make good decisions about their products."