Idea Man Keeps on Pitching

Where big ideas come from and what comes next are topics J.B. Bernstein will tackle on Tuesday when he comes to Fort Wayne as keynote speaker for the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center’s annual fundraiser, Ideas@Work.

Money raised will benefit the innovation center’s Student Venture Program, the Women’s Economic Opportunity Center and regional entrepreneurship outreach. Organizers expect to sell out Parkview Mirro Center for Research and Education, which has a capacity of about 525.

As a sports agent, Bernstein represented all-star athletes, including Barry Bonds, Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith. But it was the next chapter in his career that sealed Bernstein’s reputation as an innovative thinker.

Looking to break into an untapped market for sports merchandise, Bernstein created The Million Dollar Arm contest in India to search for cricket players who had potential to become pitchers for a major league baseball team.

“American Idol,” the Fox singing competition, and the success of NBA star – and Chinese national – Yao Ming were his inspiration.

The goal was to get Indians interested in baseball to entice them to buy shirts, hats and other merchandise.

The Million Dollar Arm program’s first year, 2011, yielded two Indian-born players who were signed to major league contracts. Bernstein’s adventure was lightly fictionalized in the 2014 Disney movie starring Jon Hamm.

Bernstein, 48, doesn’t believe some people are just born to come up with creative ideas.

The Las Vegas resident has created a six-step system, which he outlines in a book being published by year’s end.

Arriving at that coveted aha moment depends on bringing inspiration to the information already in your mind, he said. Getting to the eureka moment depends on the quality of that information, he said.

And, please, forget thinking outside of the box.

“There really isn’t a box,” he said. “There’s ideas that work and ideas that don’t work. If your idea works, it’s not crazy.”

After that breakthrough, entrepreneurs have to do the hard work of evaluating the idea’s potential by creating a business plan that highlights the pros and cons, Bernstein said.

The core characteristics of super successful people, he said, are passion, the ability to overcome adversity, the ability to continue to evolve with the market and strong ethics.

Bold thinkers have to be prepared that if they generate a lot of creative ideas, their output will include a lot of bad ideas, he said.

Early in Bernstein’s career, he helped found The Upper Deck Co., which specializes in sports trading cards. As development director for the memorabilia department, his tenure was marked by creating milestone marketing products, including a program that commemorated hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky’s 802nd goal.

Bernstein also helped found Major League Soccer. He created the merchandise program for MLS and its players from 1995 to 1997, the first two years of the league’s existence.

Although his career keeps him plenty busy, Bernstein has booked more than 100 speaking engagements over the last few years to encourage entrepreneurs and support organizations such as the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center.

Bernstein sees such appearances as a way of paying forward the help he’s received over the years.

Media Contact: sslater@jg.net


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