We are back for week two of Women’s History Month with an additional celebration: Women in Construction Week (March 5th-11th 2023). At Auden Street, will be celebrating the work of dedicated female leaders and their journey into the home industry.
Last month, we reached out to women in the Minnesota to learn more about their own individual experiences working with custom homes.
Dian has 4 years of hands-on technical experience in the concrete market and has paved the way for women in the concrete industry. She has 5 current patents and is awaiting approval on the 6th.
Outside of her talents at Pro Concrete Countertops, Dian also volunteers as a board member of an organization called WINC. (Women in Construction) It is a non-profit group dedicated to the advancement of women in the construction industry. WINC is a free membership organization and hosts monthly networking events and mentoring opportunities for the community.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how did you get started in this industry?
I grew up on a farm in Northern Minnesota and have two teenage daughters. I have a Bachelors in both Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mathematics. I am a Concrete Countertop Institute alumni and hold 5 patents. Currently, I am applying for a 6th.
I’ve general contracted three of my own homes so I could design them to ensure the best accessibility for my oldest daughter, who uses a power wheelchair. Through the process, I found a passion for the trades by building and designing my homes. I enjoy working with my hands and pouring concrete countertops into my house. Quickly, I fell in love with the versatility of concrete for its infinite color selection and infinite shape options.
Initially, I was a Director of Engineering for an automated packaging company. I worked on concrete part time while working as an Engineering Director. Still, when I received a job from L Cramer Builders on NFL player Kyle Rudolph’s house, that inspired me to leave engineering and work on my concrete business full time.
What is WINC?
I have the honor of being a board member of WINC. Women in Construction is a diverse group of people dedicated to the advancement of women in the construction industry. We encourage strong mutual support networks among members through philanthropy & mentoring opportunities to share strengths, talents, and experience. We are based in Minnesota and are a 501c6 organization.
You mentioned you had a total of 5 patents under your name, with a 6th on the way. What does that process typically look like?
There are mainly two types of patents, design patents and utility patents. Design patents are ornamental in nature and utility patents are probably the more familiar type of patent when people think of patents. Utility patents are for a new and useful process, machine, manufacture or composition of matter or a new and useful improvement.
You can see the patents I currently hold under my maiden name:
The process is fairly simple, but if you have a novel idea that you believe is useful to protect, then you can first search google patents and see if it has been done before. If you feel and see that it has never been patented, you can find a patent lawyer who will first do a search on your idea (this can cost somewhere between $1500-$5000), and they will get more in depth to ensure that it has not been patented. Provisional patent is simply the quickest way to work towards a patent pending, for both cases I suggest hiring a patent lawyer to do a search and then either do a provisional with a full or go straight to a full patent within one year of filing the provisional patent. It’s a relatively expensive process to file a utility patent in the US, typically between $10,000-$15,000. If you want to file in other countries, the cost will increase. Since the price is relatively high, you have to make a business decision on if you feel it is worth it and something you will make money on and keep competitors from using it, or maybe you want to sell it, etc…also if you are awarded the patent you need to consider if you can hire/pay the lawyers to protect it if someone were to infringe on your patent.
Utility patents claims are what is protected, so when you make a claim to an idea, you should also think about what other claims you can make on your idea. For example, if your idea claim can be made differently with different materials, you would want additional claims to cover those other materials. However, suppose you do not claim those additional materials. In that case, a competitor could get around your idea by using a different material, for example.
Design patents are somewhere on the order of $3000 or so, protecting an ornamental design. So if you have a novel ornamental design, you could design and patent it. It is protected from other “copies,” given that “an ordinary observer” would not be able to tell the “copy” from the original.
I do not hold any design patents, only utility patents, and the patent I am filing for is a utility patent on a process.
The process from idea to filing to awarding from the USPTO can take years. Sometimes it can take ten years or more from filing to the award, so one can see the advantage of filing a provisional patent first. In addition, the provisional patent can include the claims or may not, so they can be quicker to write and file than a full patent.
My lawyer will file a provisional first, then a full patent.
Can you tell us more about your experience as an alumni at the Concrete Countertop Institute?
I LOVE being part of the CCI alumni. They are incredibly supportive of my business and me. I can call the Civil Engineer/Professional Engineer who owns CCI, Jeff Girard, anytime for advice. He has spent at least 30 hours on the phone with me since I took the class in 2019. I have also talked to his wife, Lane, for hours about sales and marketing. I also have a great connection with other CCI alumni members across the US and have visited several of their shops. We share techniques, ideas and many other things that may come up owning a concrete business.
Lastly, for the next generation of female leaders in construction, what advice would you both give?
If you can’t change someone’s negative preconceived notion, then move on, ignore it and don’t let it get you down.
You can’t change everyone’s mind and when you believe in yourself, you won’t care. I really like this linked article below, because it shows not everyone will like you or believe in you but when you have a true vision and work hard to back it up, it won’t matter if some people reject you. Some of these famous people were fired for what they are now famous for!https://thoughtcatalog.com/rachel-hodin/2013/10/35-famous-people-who-were-painfully-rejected-before-making-it-big/
Thank you to Dian Mullis again for taking the time to interview with us. If you want to get to know Dian more or network some of Minnesota’s finest women in construction, consider attending one of their monthly events. Keep following along as we are interviewing Lea Johnson of Creekwoodhill next week.