DETROIT (AP) _ When Ida Byrd-Hill began thinking out an idea for an educational board game involving inventions, it wasn't out of necessity.
The 45-year-old divorced Detroit mother of two wanted to make a point _ that black, inner-city youth do have the capacity to develop products and market their inventions if given the tools and training.
“I did a lot of patent searches for the biotech, chemical and computer industries,'' Byrd-Hill said. “One of the things I noticed is that few people outside those fields ever talk about that area, but it is the core of most companies. If you can get the patent, you can sell the product at a profit for a certain number of years without anybody challenging you.''
She believes “Fluke'' will introduce the landscape of inventions, patents and corporate success to young people faced with an uncertain economy and limited job opportunities.
The colorful game was developed earlier this year. It takes players from accidental inventions to scientific research, the stock market and court battles while building wealth The player with the largest portfolio wins.
With an initial backing of $10,000, Byrd-Hill was able to have a prototype made and sample boards created. With another $40,000 she believes she can put the game into production.
To a point, what led her to develop the game also was a fluke.
The corporate consultant and University of Michigan economics graduate wanted to open a public charter school in Detroit that would have a curriculum based on technology, inventions and business. She has a charter school planning grant, but needs a university to authorize the school she plans to call INVENTech Academy.
“A couple of universities said, `We don't even think it's going to work,''' she said. “No one believes African American inner-city kids have the ability to invent. They hinted at it.
“My response was to show them how wrong they were. Kids have a natural imagination and a natural ability to take risks and play, which are the foundations of invention.''
Blacks are creative and inventive, but few think about making money off their creations, she said.
“We don't think about getting the actual copyright, trademark or patent _ something `Fluke' tries to teach,'' Byrd-Hill said.
The game's publisher is Upheaval Media, a company she started in 2008 while Byrd-Hill's children were students at the Detroit School of Arts. They graduated in June. Her daughter, Karen, attends Western Michigan University, while Kevin is a student at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y.
Some in Detroit believe small business owners and entrepreneurs, like Byrd-Hill, will lead the struggling city's economic turnaround.
Downsizing by manufacturers, especially the Detroit automakers, has resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of blue- and white-collar jobs. City officials have put the unemployment rate as high as 28 percent, far above the national average.
“Everybody wants a job, but jobs come when corporations are profitable and profits come from invention,'' Byrd-Hill said.
The time Byrd-Hill has invested in Fluke “demonstrates that an entrepreneurial culture is alive and well in the city,'' said Leslie Smith, president and chief executive of TechTown, a business incubator at Wayne State University.
The urban school's research and technology park has been at the forefront of retraining and small business development in Detroit. Its 100,000-square-foot building houses about 70 growing companies.
Like Byrd-Hill, Smith said an educational culture that embraces invention may be missing from city schools.
“We don't talk about it,'' she said. “I do think we have to find a different platform to talk about invention and entrepreneurship. Students can find it a platform for their lives … an opportunity.''
Two schools have picked “Fluke'' up with plans to add it to their curriculum. That component costs about $1,000 and includes books, games and professional development.
“Part of the curriculum looks at how do you create an invention, which is basically the scientific method,'' Byrd-Hill said. “It can be applied to any subject and any area of thinking. The book that comes with the game does that.''
Byrd-Hill hopes to have major retailers put the game on their shelves. She expects the cost to be under $30.
“It's very, very clever,'' said Oakland County resident Maggie Allesee, who backed the project with $10,000. “I thought the product was worth getting out to the schools and the kids. In playing the game, you're actually doing business with other people.''
The 83-year-old Allesee sits on a number of boards, including the Music Hall in Detroit, the Wayne State University Foundation and the President's Council of Oakland University. She is not expecting a return on her investment in “Fluke.''
“This is the sort of thing we want to encourage … people to have new methods of learning,'' she said.