Working on Challenges is a ‘Mind-Opening Experience’

Interview with IdeaConnection problem solver David Orlebeke.
By Paul Arnold
David Orlebeke is a US Patent Holder of advanced electrolysis processes and has multiple patents and patents pending in wastewater treatment, agriculture and aquaculture.

He is also the managing partner of an engineering and chemist consulting firm. In his spare time, he works on individual and team-based challenges for a clutch of innovation intermediaries, earning a considerable income.

In this interview, David talks about what he likes about being a solver and what he was looking for when he first came across IdeaConnection.

David OrlebekeIt was basically for an extra income source. I work from home and my wife is partially disabled and at that time we were foster parents of four children and I didn’t have the ability to travel much anymore. When you look at some employment sites they’re so locked into processes and technologies that are 50 years old and I said to myself that there has got to be people out there doing R&D for new technologies. I have my own patented processes and have been all over the world demonstrating them and so I figured that by doing challenges I would locate those companies compared to what was being shown on employment sites.

What challenges have you worked on?

Under IdeaConnection I have worked on four challenges. One was a tech scouting challenge and the others were team-based challenges in areas such as organic fungicides and new rodenticides. Primarily the challenges with IdeaConnection have been organic related.

What do you love about being a remote solver?

It’s fun and it gets me into areas I would never have worked on before, not by myself. I’ve met and have relationships now with professionals in Spain, Russia, the United States, Canada, Israel, India and other countries. So I am networking with professionals that I would never have come across before had I just stuck to my own little area of wastewater treatment.

I’ve also gotten into processes I never would have looked at such as new processes for coal treatment and I’ve had meetings with organizations I would never have come into contact with such as SOCOM (United States Special Operations Command). It has been a thrill.

I have met people with varied interests, and we all like to step out of our little box that we’re employed in. And you find that people regardless of their culture or the country they live in are all pretty much the same. It has been a mind-opening experience that has allowed me to go into areas I would never have been able to do before without going and getting a master’s in something or some other college degree. I have learned a lot of things.

So as well as being an individual solver, you like being part of a team.

Working in a team is always fun if you’ve got people with good personalities. I have my own tech innovation consulting company and my partners are team members from several innovation intermediaries where I’m a solver. A lot of the time you meet interesting people with interesting occupations just by working in a team.

How much of your time is spent on solving problems?

On an average probably no more than eight to ten hours a week. It comes and goes in waves. With my clients, it depends on the size of the bureaucracy. When I’m dealing with some multinationals you’ll go a month or two or more with no contact and then all of a sudden you’re buried in questions. You then spend 20 or 30 hours on it and then they’re gone for another month. As far as challenges are concerned I would say probably less than 60 hours a year and I usually win three or four awards a year, anything from $5,000 to $20,000 apiece.

Wonderful. So that’s worth your time.

Oh yes. If you did it on a per hour basis I’m beating most high-end attorneys. Last year was actually sort of a low year, split between teams and everything else I think I made about $35,000 working probably less than 50 hours.

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