Posted: January 01, 2012

Beyond innovation

DaVinci Inventors Showcase highlights products primed for success

Eric Peterson

Spotlighting everything from tools to make better water balloons to custom geodesic domes, the DaVinci Inventors Showcase was held Nov. 5, 2011, at Noah's, an event center in Westminster.

"It was a banner year," said DaVinci Institute founder and event organizer Thomas Frey, citing an attendance of about 1,000. And it's gone national: "We had a little over half of our inventors coming from out of state."

As many inventor-oriented events across the country have been in decline in recent years, the DaVinci Inventors Showcase is "really going across the grain," he added.

"Everyone is talking about innovation," said keynote speaker Louis Foreman, CEO of Edison Nation and publisher of Inventors Digest. Foreman noted that a full 50 percent of sales today come from products that are less than five years old. "When a company stops innovating, the clock starts ticking. It's just a matter of time before that company dies."

But that doesn't mean every innovation is a moneymaker. Foreman rattled off "five simple questions" inventors should ask themselves before investing time or money in an idea:

What is your product and what is unique about it?
Who is your customer?
How will the customer react to your product?
How much money will it take?
Where will the money come from?

Not every idea is going to stand up to this battery of questions, he said, but the simple task of honestly answering them can be the difference between success and failure.

Edison Nation (www.edisonnation.com ) exists to help push good ideas off of the drawing board and into reality, Foreman said. "What we're trying to do is unleash the potential in great ideas," he said. "It's what I enjoy doing every single day."

DaVinci_neverWet.jpg

Inventor of the Year
Dan Hobson, NeverWet
www.neverwet.com , Lancaster, Pa.
Hobson is CEO of Ross Technology Corp., which supplies barriers and other security products to a host of government customers. Some of these products had trouble with the elements. "We had a corrosion problem," Hobson said.
In 2008, the company's management turned to Dr. Vinod Sikka of Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Sikka's solution involved "super hydrophobic" coatings that repelled water. "You can throw mud on it, anything on it, and it stays clean."
It worked wonders fighting corrosion, Hobson said. "We were so impressed we ended up offering him a job." Not only did they hire Sikka away from the lab, they started a whole new division, Ross Nanotechnology Corp., to commercialize the coating, NeverWet.
NeverWet can be applied to any surface from cloth to concrete. The results are astounding: Chocolate syrup rolls off of tennis shoes; water drips off glass; ice won't form on wings. "We're licensing this to a lot of Fortune 500 and Fortune 100 companies that want to differentiate their products," said Hobson, describing possibilities for NeverWet-enhanced motors, circuit boards, plungers, garbage cans and jackets. "The applications are endless."
The secret is in the "contact angle" of NeverWet's molecular topography. "180 degrees is perfect - nothing can stick to it," Hobson said. "Our coatings are between 165 and 170 degrees. What it looks like under the microscope is a bunch of Mount Everests. They are basically self-cleaning."
Hobson predicted that Sikka and company will perfect a NeverWet windshield in six months, touting, "You won't ever need wipers again."

DaVinci_ET3cutaway2.jpg

Commercial Product of the Year | ET3 | www.et3.com  | Crystal River, Fla.
Daryl Oster founded et3.com Inc. in the mid-1990s, but he started brainstorming about evacuated tube transport a decade earlier. "The oldest drawings I have are from the back of a college physics textbook," he said. "I've been on this full-time for a long time."
Oster described his patented evacuated tube transport (ETT) concept as "space travel on Earth." Passengers travel in modules through a near-vacuum inside a network of tubes 51 inches in diameter. Powered by magnetic levitation, the modules essentially coast once they hit 350 miles per hour (or much faster on transcontinental routes) thanks to the nearly frictionless environment.
"Our ultimate vision is being able to travel from Denver to New York in an hour, or New York to Beijing, China, in two hours at a tenth of the cost of air travel," Oster said.
et3.com Inc. is an open consortium that allows licensees to contribute intellectual property and reap any corresponding financial rewards. The company currently has 118 licensees in nine countries. "Our business model is to leverage existing investments," Oster said. "It's not like it was in Henry Ford's day."

Software Product of the Year | CoKnown | www.coknown.com  | Boulder
CoKnown is a fully featured knowledge management system for individuals and businesses of any size. "It's the knowledge network," CEO Eric May said. "Facebook's for friends, LinkedIn's for business, and CoKnown's for sharing knowledge."
May came up with the idea for CoKnown in 2007 after a marketing meeting went awry. He left thinking, "There's got to be a better way of sharing knowledge on the Internet." The technology incorporates a Firefox toolbar to capture information that it then relays to www.coknown.com so it can be shared via Facebook, Twitter, email or other means. Users can collect pages into specific projects, add notes and mark up the Web pages, and otherwise utilize the system's brand of "social bookmarking."
CoKnown utilizes a "freemium" pricing model, May said. Basic accounts are free, and users who want additional features pay $1.95 a month. The public beta launched in May 2011, "open to anybody and everybody," May said.

DaVinci_Klinggon.jpg

Consumer Product of the Year | Klinggon | www.klinggon.com  | Miami
Friends Francisco Garcia and Gustavo Leon teamed up to solve a common problem: How do you keep your iPhone, iPod or other earphone cables out of the way during a workout?
Garcia and Leon's "eloquently simple" solution: the Klinggon, a cord holder that magnetically stays in place atop its base over your clothing. The pair financially seeded the concept with a successful Kickstarter campaign last September, then got to work honing the design. After a number of prototypes, Garcia thinks they nailed it. "I think we've got something," he said.
The final design "uses two magnets, one on the inside and one on the outside." The Klinggon weighs just one ounce and is made from recyclable materials, he added, citing a potentially vast customer base. "Our market is the young urban professional and people who love Apple products."
Now working with 10 distributors and retailers in Japan and South Korea, Garcia and Leon have submitted Klinggon samples to the Apple Store and Best Buy and are awaiting a response, with the hope of a big U.S. launch early this year. The target retail price is $24.95.

Food Product of the Year
Herbs Unlimited
www.herb-sun-limited.com , Boulder and Scranton, Penn.)
"Herbs Unlimited started about 11 years ago when I had this great crop of basil and cilantro," said Nancy Mercanti, the company's founder. She chopped and froze her surplus herbs. When Mercanti used the cilantro the next year to make salsa, "It was perfect," she said. "It was like it was put in a state of suspended animation."
But it wasn't until Mercanti started splitting time between Scranton and Boulder in 2010 that Herbs Unlimited became her focal point.
"The idea is to preserve the harvest at its peak," said Mercanti of her proprietary chopping and freezing techniques. Herbs Unlimited are now available at several natural markets in Pennsylvania for $4.50 to $6.50 per cup, and Mercanti said she hoped to expand to Colorado in early 2012. Beyond the culinary market, she is also targeting two other industries: supplements and medical marijuana.
Two years after moving west, Mercanti is a big booster of Boulder. "It's an amazing community, it really is, for both food and entrepreneurship," she said. "That's why I relocated there. When you go fishing, go where the fish are."


Honorable Mentions

Portavise
a portable vise with a special grip on
its base
www.portavise.com

Gadget Feet
a new stand for iPads and other tablets
www.gadgetfeet.com

LeashLocket
a retractable leash that dogs can carry on their collar
www.leashlocket.com

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Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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