Spirit of Da Vinci
From solar breakthroughs to "a snot sucker" - as one attendee described the BabyComfyNose nasal aspirator - the fifth annual Colorado Inventor Showcase was marked by a strong turnout and a wide spectrum of innovations.
DaVinci Institute founder and event organizer Tom Frey held court in full Leonardo da Vinci garb to celebrate the spirit of creativity at the Nov. 3 competition, held at the Cable Center on the campus of the University of Denver.
The key to future innovation is getting kids interested in inventing at an early age, said keynote speaker Joshua Schuler, the executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program.
"Engineering design is like sunrise and sunset - it happens every day. There might be lightning - that's invention. Innovation is getting that invention into the marketplace. Invention is only innovation when it enters the market."
By alternating PowerPoint slides of Britney Spears and Dean Kamen, Schuler pointed out that even the biggest superstar inventors are not very recognizable. "This is a problem. We don't know who these folks are, but we know who she is. This is our whole mission: getting kids into inventing.
"Young people don't understand you can have a career in the international development of technology," Schuler added. "You need to create a community. You need to support students and give them opportunity to do things - like fail."
His parting advice: "Make stuff. Build stuff. Essentially, it's choose your own adventure."
FOUNDER OF FIREFLY MEDICAL FORT COLLINS
"I was an RN for about 12 years, with most of that time working in the ICU," said Steve Schmutzer via e-mail. "My experiences in nursing were sufficiently diverse to allow me to grapple firsthand with the problems which Firefly Medical is addressing now."
Schmutzer incorporated the company in the summer of 2005 based on his nursing experience in the intensive care setting.
"My time in nursing showed me that some of the equipment nurses were expected to use while providing patient care was largely unchanged for many decades," he said. "These products were originally designed when expectations of health care were quite different, but in the unforgiving environment and demands of modern health care, these products are now a liability."
Schmutzer saw the ubiquitous intravenous pole as a product ripe for improvement and devised the Infusion Management System, or IMS. The multiple-armed triangular design can handle multiple IV bags, automatically centers its weight, and folds down for vertical storage, unlike the space-gobbling status quo.
"During my years in clinical practice, I had many opportunities to consider the vices of the IV pole," Schmutzer said. "I had to deal with this archaic product every day. While the basic design of today's standard IV pole is much the same as it was in the 1920s, it is now expected to function in ways it was not designed to."
Schmutzer noted that one of the key benefits is increased safety because of reduced patient falls and the ability to replace the function of two to three IV poles. "Many patients emerge from major surgery with eight or more infusions. They are expected to get up and walk with this whole mess attached to them. There are often serious problems as a result. The IMS provides answers for all these things at the cost of a medium priced conventional IV pole."
Schmutzer is contemplating raising
$2 million and going into production of the IMS with Firefly or licensing out the technology. "We are currently in discussions with a number of potential strategic partners, including both domestic and international players, and we expect more of these will express interest," he said.
As the company's lone employee, Schmutzer is keeping the operation lean. "Between myself and my board and some quality partners, we have all the bases covered," he said.
He also gave the Colorado Inventor Showcase high marks. "I was very surprised - and honored - to come away with the award for Inventor of the Year. It came as a total shock to me. The competition and alumni of the event have set a very high standard."
The story of the traditional IV pole and the IMS is indicative of some of the problems in health care in the U.S., Schmutzer added - namely the stubborn resistance to change. "This is what modern health care is facing. It cannot go back; it must find the right answers while moving forward."
ON THE WEB: WWW.FIREFLYMEDICAL.COM
After winning the 2008 Young Entrepreneur of the Year award for Fiberlight - a novel tool for splicing fiber-optic cable -15-year-old Philip Hartman repeated with the Steam Viper, a windshield wiper that vanquishes frost, snow and grime with steam in lieu of traditional wiper fluid.
"It's a new windshield wiper system," Hartman said. "It delivers the steam through the wiper. Steam's a great cleaner, and it also de-ices and defrosts the window."
Under the hood, the steam originates in a unit that replaces the wiper fluid reservoir. After a 12-volt coil heats the water and "a little bit of de-icer," the steam is delivered through the wiper arm into the blade, which is dotted with microscopic holes along the entire length of the blade.
Hartman hopes to license or sell the patent-pending device to an existing manufacturer. He estimated the retail price of an aftermarket kit at $100 to $200.
Hartman is nearly finished 12th grade at home school and looking at colleges - his short list includes MIT, Harvard and Colorado School of Mines. He's also perfecting the Fiberlight and looking at his options at taking it to market - and, of course, he has a few more inventions on the drawing board.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN IMAGING
After seeing his stint at a Fortune 500 company come to an end in fall 2008, Gordon Nuttall co-founded Rocky Mountain Ventures with Mike Codd, Linda O'Brien, Jim Pounds and Gene Miksch.
"We all had a similar affinity to starting a company," said Nuttall, now Rocky Mountain Ventures' CEO. The plan: "Find existing technology and bring it to market in a novel way."
Nuttall said Rocky Mountain Imaging is the company's first business unit - there are plans for two additional business units in coming years - and the paperback-sized Pocket Scanner is the unit's first product.
"Because it's battery-powered and it stores images on an internal memory card, this device is completely portable," Nuttall said. "You don't have to hook it up to a computer at all." There is an optional wireless card that would allow users to transfer images to their computers sans cable.
Because Nuttall was inspired by his experiences scanning his own old photos, the target markets for the Pocket Scanner are scrapbookers and other "hobbyists and creative-memory types," he said, noting, "We had people walking up to the booth (at the Colorado Inventor Showcase) with all sorts of ideas on how to use it."
A contract manufacturer is waiting in the wings to start manufacturing as soon as this summer, funding permitting, with a target retail price of $150 to $200. "Here we're taking existing technology, packaging it in a novel way and bringing it to market quickly," Nuttall said. "We're a small company that knows how to move fast. We'll always be ahead of the game."
ON THE WEB: WWW.ROCKYMTNIMAGING.COM
ET SQUARED (ENGINEERED TOOLS AND TECHNOLOGIES INC.),
Pete Tovani started ET Squared after working in aerospace technology and missile systems for large corporations. "I got sick of inventing for other people," he said.
The self-described "3D CAD guy" describes ET Squared as a loose-knit company of professionals in fields varying from engineering to architecture with a long-term mission of advancing a national smart power grid based on clean energy.
Tovani believes waste of all kinds must be turned into a significant energy stream, thus one of his many projects is designing the BioReactor, which uses an anaerobic digester to mine organic waste products for methane and other biogas, which in turn can be used in electrical generation. The U.S. produces 450,000 tons of organic waste annually - a full three pounds per person per day.
The BioReactor represents an engineering improvement over other waste-based generators in that it has no moving mechanical parts. "There's constant agitation at the bottom of the tank," Tovani said. "We're currently looking for funding to build a prototype." The initial target will be the industrial market, namely food processors, breweries and other producers of organic waste.
Beyond the BioReactor, Tovani is spearheading a wide range of other sustainable concepts through ET Squared, including using parks as carbon sinks along light rail lines and a sustainable building plan called the Energy Oasis.
"I'm trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together for a clean energy grid," Tovani said. "People think I'm way out there."
ON THE WEB: WWW.ETSQUARED.COM
LIQUID MEDIA LLC
Roger Toennis, Liquid Media CEO and co-founder, worked in aerospace design for a decade then telecom for another decade before taking the entrepreneurial leap.
"I got tired of the corporate world," Toennis said. "The very first thing that goes when times get tough is all the groups that are thinking of new ideas. It cuts the heart out of the ability to innovate."
So Toennis and like-minded co-founders Alex Montoya and Dean Hiller started working on a startup after they were laid off by Boulder-based Carrier Access in 2007. After raising a round of friends-and-family funding in 2008, they launched Loyal2.me last year.
Toennis described Loyal2.me as "the first loyalty program for the social media generation." The model calls for the company to first recruit users - first and foremost, college students - then approach the businesses they identify as favorites. Thus, users are already opted-in when Loyal2.me calls on a potential customer. "They've already picked you," Toennis said. "They're waiting for your call."
For as little as $99 a month, businesses can then send messages - voice, text or e-mail - based on customer preferences to alert them of special offers. "You let the consumer control the marketing stream," Toennis said. "Every one of our users has a customized filter about what gets to them. It prevents spam."
Toennis said the company launched at University of Colorado at Boulder with plans to go to other campuses in the near future.
A new marketing paradigm is needed to reach the 18-to-26 demographic in 2010, he added. "The social-media generation is a group that thinks differently about information because they have so much of it coming in," Toennis said. "The way they've handled it is by ignoring traditional advertising."
ON THE WEB: WWW.LOYAL2.ME
Craig Jenkins, EZ Shot Basketball EZ Shot is a patented, fully automatic basketball-return machine.
On the Web: www.ezshotbasketball.net
Mark Felker, WebRecept
Based in Alliance, Neb., WebRecept is a Web-based customer relations management service that provides live website chat interaction and
On the Web: www.webreceptchat.com
Kirk Dennis, TelePresence Tech
TelePresence Tech offers 3-D "TelePresence" solutions designed to offer an enhanced communication experience for corporate communications or customer service.
On the Web: www.telepresencetech.com
Rocky Mraz, Electronic Target
From Wyoming comes this electronic training target for air rifles.
Richard Sweeny, UFO Micro Furnace
This is the world's smallest and most affordable furnace for performing assays of precious metal ore.
On the Web: www.goldco-mining.com
Kip Kusser, Zip-Zac Towels
From Denver comes this towel with a patented zippered pocket lined with water-resistant nylon.
On the Web: www.zip-zac.com