TRAVERSE CITY — Aurora is the Roman goddess of the dawn. It is also a natural electrical phenomenon in the northern sky.
Blending the two was the perfect name for Ashley Sloat’s patent strategy firm, Aurora Consulting. Sloat, who holds a doctorate from the University of Michigan in biomedical sciences, serves clients across the globe while firmly rooted in her home office on the shore of Rennie Lake.
“For us, it’s ‘where do we want to live’ because our client base doesn’t dictate where we have to live,” Sloat said. “So for us it was, let’s try to be near family and raise our own family.”
Sloat, whose husband, Josh, is a Lake City native, moved to Traverse City in early 2014. Like his wife, Josh Sloat also works remotely from their house, as a software engineer.
Ashley Sloat said Traverse City is a dawning innovation center.
“Our hope is to really grow the business here with lots of potential long term,” Sloat said. “Maybe we’re a little early, but I’d rather be early to the party than late to the party.”
Sloat pointed to TC New Tech, a monthly meeting of technology enthusiasts to highlight new products or business ventures, and the Geek Breakfast, a monthly morning meeting of “technology-minded people,” according to the group’s website.
“There’s a lot of ways for people to get connected in Traverse City and I think it’s a great start to keep building the area,” she said. “I think it’s going to be a big tech center at some point. I think we’re just at the beginning of it.”
When Sloat began her education at North Dakota State, becoming a patent agent was not part of the plan. She graduated in 2007 with a 4.0 GPA in microbiology with chemistry, biotechnology and Spanish minors.
The initial plan while pursing her PhD at the University of Michigan was to become a research scientist and a professor. During grad school she discovered two important facts.
“One, there aren’t enough positions for all of us, and, two, maybe it wasn’t as glamorous as we thought it was,” Sloat said.
While Sloat was still at U-M, Jessica Hudak contacted the tech transfer office at Michigan where Sloat worked, looking for assistance with her patent company. Sloat went to work for Hudak “almost like an apprenticeship” and joined the firm full time as a patent strategy specialist and after passing the patent bar in 2014 as a licensed agent.
“There was definitely a big movement in PhD students on how to find ‘alternative careers’ as they were calling it,” Sloat said. “For me, I was fortunate enough to kind of stumble upon the patent field through a couple of different connections that I had and ultimately, obviously, ended up really liking it and making it more of a long-term career and not just a bump in the road.”
When Hudak went to law school, Sloat handled “75 to 80 percent of the clients.” Hudak now works as a law clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals. Sloat acquired Hudak Consulting Group on Jan. 1.
Patent attorneys and agents both take the patent bar and handle the duties such as correspondence with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, draft patent applications and post-grant proceedings. The only difference, Sloat said, is that agents can’t handle litigation or trademark disputes, which falls under state-to-state commerce rules and is handled by patent attorneys.
A lot of the work Sloat does is in the “biotech and biomedical space.” But she’s also worked on patents for a company that produces a surfboard. So the diversity she sought as a PhD has come to fruition as the president of Aurora Consulting.
“One of the things that bothered me during the PhD is that you spend your whole career on one cell type or one protein pathway or maybe like a subset,” Sloat said. “There’s just so much other science out there that you would never get to read about because you don’t have time.
“So with patents, I have clients that are a wide-range of technology so I get to be excited and learn about their technologies with them. They get to be the ones that are innovating, but I still get to share in the excitement and learn about it. For me, that’s the excitement I get in this process.”
Sloat said her background in science also helps her adapt to realms outside of her specialty.
One of Aurora Consulting’s largest clients, CardioKinetix, has more than a hundred issue patents. Based in Menlo Park, Calif. CardioKinetix has a “parachute” implant that, by partitioning the enlarged left ventricle, helps the heart pump more efficiently following organ failure.
“I’ve definitely had to teach myself a bit of engineering in the process,” Sloat said. “I tell PhD students all the time that are looking for that alternative career that, yes, a PhD teaches you about science, but even more it teaches you critical thinking and the ability to adapt to new technology, adapt to new information and learning new information more readily.”
While CardioKinetix holds a lot of patents and has been working with Sloat since 2012, it is still considered a start-up company. Aurora Consulting’s clients are mostly start-ups that have anywhere from a handful of patents to 15 or 20.
“That’s more the size we deal in, those new companies,” she said.
Sloat said there are different ways for inventors to get a patent, a process that takes an average of five years.
“There isn’t any one path to a patent,” Sloat said. “There are lot of different paths to a patent and there’s also a lot of different types of patents. There’s design patents and utility patents and they have different pros and cons to them. That’s where I feel we really shine in the patent space.”
Since Aurora has many California clients, Sloat travels quarterly to the West coast and tries to pack as many meetings as possible into each visit. Just as in Traverse City, the company has no physical “office” in California.
Like Sloat, the other two members of the Aurora Consulting team are based in different locations. Director of Patent Strategy Kirsten Wolff is in Seattle. Patent paralegal Alisa McCarthy is in southwestern Michigan.
Tools like Skype and Google Hangouts allow Aurora Consulting to stay in touch with clients anywhere in the world.