Invention Perfection

October 20, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — Like many inventors in the room, Rita Goggins discovered that necessity is often the mother of invention.

“It was a need!” said a jubilant Goggins, perched atop her Move About “hands-free” stool.

For Goggins, an avid gardener with an 11.5-acre homestead, necessity arose after a car accident nearly a decade ago. The injury kept her from kneeling or squatting for long periods of time. She tried an upturned bucket, then a traditional stool, and later a seated scooter that served only to destroy her plants.

To her frustration, Goggins knew all along what she needed. She grew up on a Ravenna dairy farm, where her father would use a stool roped to his rear end so he could move about his milking duties without juggling a stool and bucket. She could find no such product available — so she built one. Improving on the centuries’ old design, her prototype is adjustable, with ergonomic suspension and a comfortable belt with a large pocket for tools.

“Now we’re all about stooped labor,” she said. “Stocking shelves, painting — anything where you’re sitting or kneeling. We want to take sitting down on the job to a whole new level.”

The Move About stool was one of nine inventions from eight local inventors on display at an open house hosted by concept realization group Invention Perfection last week. The two-year-old firm specializes in vetting and developing ideas like Goggins’ stool. The nine inventions and a 10th from a French entrepreneur represent the company’s first graduating class — prototypes in need of investors, manufacturers and distribution partners.

“It’s very difficult to get a product to market,” said Sue Perry, Invention Perfection owner and managing partner. “Only 3 percent of patents make money. People run out thinking they need to protect this great idea, and later they wonder: ‘Why won’t anyone buy it.’”

For starters, Perry said, maybe it’s not such a great idea. Only 10 percent of the ideas that come to her make it past the initial concept review. Some individuals will end the process early with a hearty dose of reality. There could be a similar product on the market, or maybe it’s too expensive to manufacture. Perhaps there just isn’t a market.

If an idea has merit, it’s an uphill road to market, with no guarantees. Through Invention Perfection, an inventor can receive the engineering help necessary to bring a prototype to life. That property can be patented and trademarked, and a business built around the budding entrepreneur. The product could then be produced through the firm’s manufacturing assets, or it could be shopped for license to other manufacturers.

On display were inventions at various points in the process.

Ionia resident Kitty Lower was still working out the kinks in her prototype for the Flag Safe water safety system, a safety flag lifejacket accessory to alert boats and personal watercraft to a person in the water.

Industrial engineer Dave Sizemore is already seeking certification through the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association for his Cosie Carry-On suitcase stroller. He intends to begin manufacturing the product in the coming months for trial and focus groups.

Perry was so impressed with Sizemore’s work in bringing his friend and silent partner’s idea to life that she added him to the team, serving as lead engineer, when needed, for the group’s prototypes.

Other products have been in development for years.

Calvin Peters, a state Department of Environmental Quality operative and avid boater, invented the California Coolercart a dozen years ago. He was looking for a better way to transport a large cooler from the trunk to the dock. Every wheeled-cooler he could find was flimsy, with short, awkward handles and two wheels.

From spare parts taken from luggage and various other items, Peters built a crude prototype with a sturdy, detachable wheel base. He added a fold-up rack atop the cooler to transport dry items, and devised a long list of accessories to make his cooler attractive to commercial caterers and other users.

Woody Bomgaars has a similar story. He patented the Woodman Limb Trimmer eight years ago. A bow hunter, his complaint concerned the awkward design of the 9-foot pruning pole he used to clear the shooting lane. Obviously, it wasn’t designed for hunting: It couldn’t be packed or carried on a strap. It wasn’t compactable or adjustable.

“You carry it into the woods with you. That pole alone filled one hand,” Bomgaars said. “I thought there had to be a better way.”

After years of effort, Peters and Bomgaars have yet to see their products on store shelves. Peters has had no luck penetrating the four-company cooler market of Rubbermaid, Igloo, Coleman and Thermos. Bomgaars has found no interest from hunting, hardware, or home and garden retailers.

“Us small guys, if you try to get into Cabela’s or some place like that, you can’t even get in the door,” Bomgaars said. “If I was (knife-maker) Gerber calling, they’re answering the phone immediately.”

That is where Perry and her partners come in. The open house was a first step for many of the inventors, gauging interest, and with luck, leads for distribution and investment. A buyer for the home shopping channel QVC was on hand, and several investors believe they have a shot at penetrating that market.

Russell Dean Taylor is confident of the market for his two inventions: the Holiday Acres display system and Ropelite Runners ambience lighting. He designed the display system for miniature holiday village collectors, like himself, but sees potential in the product for other holiday décor, or to decorate decks, hot tubs, privacy fences or the home. He has no interest in manufacturing either product and is searching for potential partners in a variety of markets.

Unlike the other inventors, Cheryl Bandstra already has a product on the market. She has successfully licensed her Aquatic Crystal filtration media for use in pool filters and water softeners. Now she’s seeking investors and distributors for a variety of other business plans using the same product — recycled glass, including a storm water discharge filter, an industrial blasting process and a prototype she realized with Perry’s help, the Slugguard.

Through her company, Grand River Recycled Glass, Bandstra distributes recycled glass for construction, landscaping and design purposes. Bandstra’s passion has been in finding new uses for the glass, and while many of her ideas have come through diligent research, one of the more interesting she stumbled upon after using the crushed glass to edge her garden.

“I didn’t have any slugs that summer,” she said. “Not even on my good lettuce.” With engineering help from Invention Perfection, Bandstra devised a safe, durable barrier to keep slugs and snails out of gardens, pools and homes.    

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