Entrepreneurs / Small Business  April 9, 2010

Today scrapbooks, tomorrow the world

FORT COLLINS – Former Hewlett Packard employee Gordon Nuttall, with the help of other displaced professionals, is preparing to launch the first of what is expected to be many products for Rocky Mountain Ventures Co.

Nuttall will officially unveil the Flip-Pal mobile scanner at an industry tradeshow in July. The convertible scanner, with two U.S. patents issued and four pending, uses secure digital memories cards – the same as those used in digital cameras – to store scanned items and to hold application-specific software. Nuttall envisions the portable Flip-Pal taking the scrapbooking sector by storm, allowing photo scans of items already affixed in a book or frame.

Nuttall knows his way around a scanner. For much of his more than 30 years at HP he worked as a lead designer in the digital imaging products division. Nuttall kept improving scanner technology but noticed that there was a computer involved.

“Back then, it was always the desktop scanner,” he said.

The HP engineers would focus on increasing scan speed, creating more robust software products to accompany the hardware or improving the resolution. The thing that didn’t change was the scanner’s physical connection to a computer.

“We’ve just reinvented their use model,” Nuttall said. “It’s more about watching the customer and seeing what they’re doing.”

Constant innovation mode

Nuttall recalled the glory days at HP when organic innovation ruled. That’s a hard thing to find at a large company now, when there is less internal early-stage research and development and more acquisition of transformative technology. Nuttall and his colleagues, many of whom also spent time at HP, wanted to start a company that was in constant innovation mode.

The team met at NoCoNet, a forum for displaced workers. They formed Rocky Mountain Ventures as a consulting firm offering “shovel-ready” innovation, but soon decided that they had all the right talent to bring their own ideas to market instead of doing it for others.

“We’re more of a go-to-market company,” Nuttall said, explaining that the focus is on taking existing, established technologies to new markets.

The Flip-Pal will be Rocky Mountain Ventures’ first but not only product. Nuttall said several others are in the hopper but he couldn’t reveal details yet.

Nuttall credits Flip-Pal’s relatively fast entry onto the commercial market to the powerhouse team of experts. Working out of his basement, Nuttall meets with about 14 people at least once a week. Each person has a particular expertise to add to the goal of getting a product to market, from marketing to website development to funding.

On the funding front, Nuttall is taking a different route than most startups. He says he’s looking for “adventure investors” through a small public offering. He’s filed the necessary paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and will be holding a series of meetings to pitch his product. Nuttall hopes to find 20 to 30 investors with $10,000 to $50,000 to place.

Even without funding secured, the Flip-Pal is close to hitting its first market.

“We’re a small company,” he said. “We don’t have a million dollars to get the word out.”

Aiming for the head pin

Nuttall likened his marketing strategy to a game of bowling. He will focus on a single target – the head pin – and hope the others fall after it.

For the Flip-Pal scanner, Nuttall identified scrapbooking enthusiasts as the head pin. He’ll launch the scanner at the Craft and Hobby Association summer convention in Chicago in July. He’s already worked with some focus groups that have resulted in a price point under $150 and future product updates such as an LCD screen to display thumbnails of the scanned photos.

From the niche of scrapbooking, Nuttall hopes that the general consumer market might open up. He also plans to launch variations of the scanner into different commercial markets – health care, hospitality, legal, and others. For each market, the scanners will come with appropriately sized screens, and the SD card software will be tailored to the application.

Even before its official launch, the scanner has already seen some success locally. The Flip-Pal was selected as the consumer product of the year at the Boulder-based DaVinci Institute’s Investor Showcase.

“I think Gordon’s business model is on the verge of taking off,´ said Thomas Frey, executive director of the DaVinci Institute. “I have no doubt he’ll pull it off.”

The Inventor Showcase is in its sixth year. Frey said that they have moved the event to a larger venue and dropped “Colorado” from its name since it is seeing an increasing number of out-of-state exhibitors. The increase in would-be entrepreneurs isn’t surprising given the high unemployment rate now.

“What goes on is that anytime there is a layoff, 7 percent of those people will try to start a business,” Frey said.

Frey refers to the business model of the resulting ventures as the empire of one. Teams of experts are formed around a project or product, then disperse once it is “done” – in Rocky Mountain Venture’s case, when the product hits the market.

Frey also noted that the narrow market entry for the scanner is a good one.

“With over 100 million products, there’s a lot of noise in the marketplace,” Frey said. “So, how do you rise above the noise?”

Nuttall and the Rocky Mountain Ventures team hope the Flip-Pal will soon rise above the noise of paper punches and laminators, and then some.

FORT COLLINS – Former Hewlett Packard employee Gordon Nuttall, with the help of other displaced professionals, is preparing to launch the first of what is expected to be many products for Rocky Mountain Ventures Co.

Nuttall will officially unveil the Flip-Pal mobile scanner at an industry tradeshow in July. The convertible scanner, with two U.S. patents issued and four pending, uses secure digital memories cards – the same as those used in digital cameras – to store scanned items and to hold application-specific software. Nuttall envisions the portable Flip-Pal taking the scrapbooking sector by storm, allowing photo scans…

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