Like many innovators, Manu Stephen was inspired to seek a solution after he encountered a problem.
The solution came in the form of a web app, Inventr, which Stephen invented and launched in summer 2017.
The problem he sought to solve emerged during his work in a lab in the neurosurgery department of Washington University in St. Louis, where he developed medical devices to help people with brain, spinal-cord and nerve injuries. While working on a device, he had to determine if it could be patented.
“I remember that process was really kind of difficult and convoluted,” Stephen said. “There’s technology that can help improve this process. That thought was kind of stuck in my mind.”
As he and his colleagues continued to develop the device, “intellectual property and patents kept coming into the mix,” he added. “That’s where the spark for Inventr came about. There’s this area of the legal industry that’s ripe for innovation.”
Stephen says the Inventr app uses artificial intelligence to help companies discover patentable inventions in 24 hours.
“[It] provides a quick score and report,” he said. “You can kind of think of it as a credit score for an invention.”
Stephen’s role as CEO and founder of Inventr is a culmination of experience in the worlds of both research and startups.
He studied mechanical engineering during his undergraduate years at the University of Iowa. He moved to Missouri to complete his master’s degree in mechanical and biomedical engineering at Wash U.
An interest in science from a young age steered him in that direction, he said.
“I think I had always been interested in science in general,” he said. “Engineering seemed like a really good, practical application of that.”
Stephen said he wasn’t interested in going into academia, but he worked in the lab to get more research experience. He also took on an analyst role at Cultivation Capital, which gave him experience with venture capital.
Inventr is primarily aimed at early-stage companies, he said. The app also helps companies to find attorneys to work on their patents by providing the companies with a list of attorneys who have been vetted and preselected by Inventr.
Stephen said companies often struggle with finding attorneys to handle their patents.
“They’ll just Google ‘patent attorney,’ or they’ll reach out to whoever is recommended in their network and hope for the best,” he said.
On the other side, patent attorneys struggle with finding clients. Stephen noted patent attorneys are especially excited about the potential to be connected with early-stage companies through the app.
About 40 companies have used the app since its launch. Inventr also has worked with firms such as Lewis Rice in St. Louis.
It also has partnered with GatewayVMS, an organization which administers the U.S. Trade and Patent Office pro bono patent program. Through the partnership, inventors who can’t afford legal assistance with the patent process can receive reports through Inventr.
Stephen said it’s been an amazing process to see the company grow.
“[Seeing it] evolve from being this one moment years ago of thinking, ‘Huh, this seems kind of frustrating, I wonder if there’s a better way to do this?’ to today, where I think we have carved out a better process — I’m incredibly excited about that,” he said. “I certainly feel very thankful to have learned so much in the process and have a great network of people to get that feedback from.”