But even the best ideas are hard to value. After all, how much does a well-prepared business strategy or a dynamite marketing concept really add to a company's bottom line?
There's only one sector I'm aware of where ideas can be immediately and precisely valued in dollars and cents. In fact, in this business, clients directly purchase ideas -- often at six- or seven-figure price tags.
I'm not talking about high-priced business management consulting or branding services. Businesses in those sectors usually require substantial overhead expenses in order to create and sell their concepts.
The industry I'm talking about is much simpler than that. Million-dollar ideas in this sector can quite literally be made by a single person with impeccable insight and a map.
The business is mineral exploration, an industry that's long fascinated me because of its potential for profits on a scale most investors have simply never dreamed were possible.
Let me tell you about one friend of mine, and the exceptional returns he's made for his shareholders... using chiefly his brain.
His name is John-Mark Staude. And he runs a mineral exploration firm called Riverside Resources.
John-Mark is a quiet, polite fellow. One of those people who, when you're speaking with him, gives you a sense that he's soaking in every word, every detail of what's going on.
He also does this with ore deposits -- gold, copper, and iron are some of his favorites.
During a successful career with major mining houses like BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP), John-Mark brought his considerable powers of observation and reasoning to bear on geological terrains where major mines might be discovered. He became an expert in developing strategies on where field teams might find massive and valuable accumulations of mineralized rock sticking out of the ground.
Eventually he grew tired of making other people wealthy. He left the majors and set up Riverside Resources to offer friends and seed investors (not to mention himself) the opportunity to profit directly from his rare skills.
Today, he works from a modest Vancouver office (shared with several other companies -- he doesn't need space or overhead expense, save a little room for books, maps and a few computers). But the ideas he continues to generate on strategies for finding big mineral deposits are far from modest.
You don't have to take my word for it. Just take a look at the gold-star list of major mining companies that have lined up to work with Riverside: Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE: CLF), Antofagasta, Hochschild and Kinross Gold (NYSE: KGC), to name a few.
Here's the most astonishing part: These companies don't pay for his time, as they would a consultant. They buy his ideas on exploration strategies, giving him the money he needs to turn well-reasoned concepts into physical discoveries.
Unlike a consultant -- who gets paid his fee while the client keeps the end product -- John-Mark and Riverside actually hold significant ownership in the mineral deposits they identify using other people's money. In effect, he is directly converting ideas into a tangible, valuable asset inventory.
To date, these partners have committed to pay Riverside and John-Mark $6.35 million under "strategic alliances" -- giving him their money in return for the promise he'll share his ideas on where new mines might be discovered. These alliances cover proven mining districts in Mexico and British Columbia -- places that are ripe for finding huge ore deposits when the right expertise and experience are applied.
But these alliance deals don't stop there. Once Riverside identifies and licenses a prospective area, the partner firms are the ones that spend the money for further exploration.
In the case of Cliffs Natural Resources, the major company will pay the first $4 million in exploration and development expenses. Only once they've put this money into the ground do they earn a title interest in the property.
But even at that point Riverside maintains 30% of a project -- more than enough to be worth hundreds of millions if a discovery is made. And it comes at absolutely no cost to the company.
Riverside's strategy is already producing results.
The company's alliance with Antofagasta -- focused on massive copper deposits known as porphyries, in mineral-rich British Columbia -- recently identified two projects, called Flute and Lennac.
After funding all of the "idea work" that led to these projects being licensed (at a total commitment of $1.8 million), Antofagasta has now agreed to pay for an additional $5.3 million in exploration and development on the lands to earn a 65% interest. And the agreement calls for an additional payment of $3 million (in cash) to Riverside if Antofagasta wants to keep its interest in the project after the exploration dollars are spent.
That adds up to stunning $10.1 million total payment in cash and exploration work (which enhances the value of Riverside's retained interest in the projects). That's a ringing appraisal of the value of John-Mark's ideas.
All told, I estimate that the commitments Riverside holds across its various alliances are worth up to $7 million to $10 million per project. And the alliances can generate multiple projects -- accruing even more value to Riverside.
The total value of payments that partners have signed up for today stands at $11,980,000. And as discussed, this number is likely to grow considerably as the joint ventures advance.
I can't stress enough -- this is hard money that some of the world's best mining companies are paying John-Mark for the privilege of owning a part interest in one of his concepts.
It's an absolutely astounding return on ideas. And it's an illustration of why -- if you know whom to invest alongside -- exploration can be one of the most profitable industries on earth.