By Chris Bosak
The Hour, Norwalk, Conn.
Michael and Jennifer Sauvageau learned a hard lesson years ago about not protecting a business‘s intellectual property.
This time, the Sauvageaus are working on obtaining a utility patent for their new business, Noteworthy Chocolates, which sells chocolate bars engraved with custom messages. They have a provisional patent that expires in a few months.
Obtaining a utility patent, which would exclude other companies from using the Sauvageau’s ideas, involves an application fee, search fee, examination fee and maintenance fees.
“It’s thousands of dollars,” Danbury native Michael Sauvageau said.
The Sauvageaus are also no strangers to running successful crowdfunding campaigns, having raised more than $28,000 from 390 supporters on Kickstarter last spring to launch the business. The entrepreneurs are turning to crowdfunding again to help cover the costs of obtaining a utility patent.
This time, however, their fundraising idea of offering $150 worth of chocolate in gift cards for $100 does not fall under Kickstarter campaign guidelines. The Sauvageaus instead are running the campaign directly through the business‘s website at www.noteworthychocolates.com.
As of Monday morning, the campaign had raised $1,400 of its $7,500 goal. The promotion runs through Saturday. Visitors may purchase a $100 gift card and later receive a $50 gift card for free.
“We’re developing a mailing list and customer base and we’re letting our Kickstarter fans know about the campaign and have them help spread the word,” Michael Sauvageau said. “We’re making money, but we’re offering a good deal and getting exposure.”
Sauveageau said he and his wife put all their savings into launching Noteworthy Chocolates and therefore have little to offer as collateral to obtain a small-business loan through a traditional bank. Noteworthy Chocolates last fall opened a location in Bethel.
“The problem with being a small business is that cash flow is tight and it’s tough to get money that’s not at 20 percent (interest),” he said. “Getting that patent is important. We’re so sensitive to this.”
The Sauvageaus previously owned Try Out Toys Entertainment, a business that developed and sold circus-skill toys. Their main product was a kit for Sphereplay Art, a hobby in which the user moves spheres around the body to make it appear as if the spheres are floating. The kit included three spheres and an instructional DVD made by the Sauvageaus.
After years of developing the idea and trying to get sales off the ground, Sauvageau said a large corporation — after visiting the Try Out Toys Entertainment booth at the annual Toy Fair at the Jacob Javits Center in New York — came out with a similar product.
“It wrecked our business and got us out of the industry we had been in for 12 years. They stole our idea; it was the same product,” Sauvageau said. “That path led us to this (Noteworthy Chocolates) and we love what we are doing now, but we don’t want to have it taken away from us. This idea is patentable.”
Nelson Merchan, a Danbury-based adviser with the Small Business Development Center, said raising capital is a big challenge for small businesses and a different approach is often necessary.
“You have to be creative and unique,” Merchan said.
The Sauvageaus will hold a seminar “An Evening of Crowdfunding” from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the Danbury Innovation Center at 158 Main St. The event will include a panel discussion featuring entrepreneurs who have used crowdfunding to raise capital.