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In the mind of a 90-year-old entrepreneur

December 3, 2018

Everything leads somewhere.

Dale Leslie was a young boy when he started thinking about how things work.

The 90-year-old Berlin man remembers the moment that began his ongoing lifetime journey to explore new ways to make things better.

How it started

It started with his father’s small Farmall tractor. It had a cultivator, the part of a tractor that breaks up the soil, with a grease fitting right underneath the bar. Because of where the bearing was located, to grease it the bar had to be taken off.

“I thought, ‘Why would they put it there?’” he said.

He didn’t have tools or the know-how to change it then. But what the experience did do for Dale Leslie was piqued his curiosity about how things work and that has never waned.

On Thursday afternoon at his kitchen table with his wife, Villa, and grandson, David Leslie, the discussion was about the possibility of the grandfather and grandson becoming entrepreneurs with a Daily American reporter and Somerset County entrepreneur coach Dan Parisi. Friday was Parisi’s last day in that position.

He began a position today as vice president of sales with InnoH20, a Friedens company manufacturing large-scale water recycling systems. The company was started through the county’s entrepreneurial program with Parisi at the helm.

Parisi was with the Leslie team to answer any questions they had about their application for an intensive eight week training and funding opportunity through Ben Franklin Technology Partners for technology-related startups in the region called TechCelerator. The program is paid for by a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission for Startup Alleghenies.

The working of an entrepreneur’s mind

“Back several years ago I was working in my garage and my grandson had a bicycle sitting there and his son had a bicycle sitting there,” Dale Leslie said.

“I looked at them two bicycles and I thought now all those chains and sprockets, there’s got to be a better way to build a bicycle. (A sprocket is a toothed wheel whose teeth engage the links of a chain.)

“For years I worked with J&J Truck Bodies with the hydraulic systems. With my experience with the hydraulic systems, I think I can make a hydraulic driven bicycle and get rid of all the chains and all the sprockets.”

So Leslie came up with a system. Bike riders would still have their peddles, but instead of the chains and sprockets they will have a hydraulic system that changes the bike’s speeds by giving more power or less power, he said. Hydraulic systems function and perform tasks through using a pressurized fluid. A pump would move the hydraulic fluid to the motors in the system to make that happen.

“The heart of the whole system is the hydraulic valve system,” he said, showing those sitting at the supper table a short tube with openings for the motors that can be closed one by one or opened all at once. The apparatus looks a little like the end of a woodwind instrument.

“I’ve had this now for several years and then one day I saw in the paper (Daily American) about Ben Franklin,” he said.

He pursued it.

“I went and talk to Dan and from there it pretty much took care of itself,” Leslie said.

Forming a partnership

He joined forces with his grandson.

“I’ve been working with Pap for years in the shop and it has always been a learning experience,” David Leslie said. “I think I was about 10 when I learned how to weld.”

Dale laughed fondly about those days with his grandson and several burnt welding rods.

He smiled and looked at his grandson.

“He’s all right. He can do pretty good,” his grandfather said.

As for the prototype once built, “I’ll be testing it until it falls apart and then he (grandfather) can ride it,” David Leslie said.

“Yeah, I’ll put David on the early bird,” his grandfather responded with a grin.

Villa just sat and listened. Both Dale and David gave her credit for giving the “green light” to work on the project.

“I’ll do everything I can to help,” she said. “I am so proud of them.”

The next step

Parisi got excited about the possible potential for the Leslie team and what it could mean to the region. Although the idea of a chainless bicycle is not new, Dale Leslie’s concept is, he said.

Parisi told Leslie that the Ben Franklin’s TechCelerator program should be his next step. The entrepreneurial startup classes will start Jan. 22 at Uptown Works in Somerset Borough. The program helps identify everything needed to build a successful startup, he said.

About six inventors will be chosen to participate in the free program.

“If the TechCelerator program in January goes well, by the end of that program in March, they will have something they will want to protect,” he said.

Dale and David Leslie are eager to built a prototype.

“That is the goal,” Parisi said. “If we could snap our fingers and have what is in Dale’s head, I’m pretty sure it would work.”

Conceptually it is there, he said. Now the goal is to get a real prototype built within the next six months.

The program will give them a wealth of resources to help them do just that, Parisi said.

“Going the next step with an idea is really tough,” he said. Number one, an inventor needs a little bit of money to pursue an idea.

For the Leslie team, making sure their product is locally made and manufactured ranks at the top of importance.

“The biggest thing is the local economy,” David Leslie said. “We are looking at keeping it here. We aren’t outsourcing anything.”

And there is no need to look farther than Somerset County, according to Parisi.

“We have everything in this county that we need resource-wise to build this bicycle. In terms of building things we’ve got it all here. Pairing that with a program like Ben Franklin TechCelerator, Dale and David are going to get all the support they need from legal help to marketing to finding a little bit of cash to get this next phase prototype built. Then we can reach out to our local companies for help.”

Go for it

Dale believes everyone should pursue their ideas.

“You never know what is going to be the end result,” he said. “You learn something different every day.”

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