By Kristy Robinson Horine. Story originally published here.
Kara Mays opened the car door and sighed. She had done this a hundred times and it hadn’t gotten any easier. Even though she and her husband, Adam, adored their new role as parents, they were just beginning to realize how complicated life had become.
Every trip out of the house required Herculean effort. Kara and Adam despaired of ever seeing that ‘quick trip to the store’ again. They soon began to contemplate the true meaning of necessities when they went out with their infant son, Baylor. The list included only the essentials – pacifier, wallet, keys, phone.
At first, Kara tried to make those quick trips while carrying Baylor in the infant car seat carrier along with the fully stocked diaper bag. She soon found that throwing her wallet, keys, phone and Baylor’s pacifier into the car seat seemed to be a quick fix.
Until Baylor learned how to soak the phone with slobbers and slime the key ring.
There had to be a better way, so Kara and Adam went to work to find it. They searched diligently for a product that would fit their needs, to no avail. Then, it hit them – why couldn’t they make their own product? And why couldn’t they share it with the world so that other parents could have a simpler, better life?
Together, Adam and Kara designed a product that would work: a pouch for only those essentials. A Mommy Pouch. It needed to be handy. It needed to be sturdy. It needed to be needed.
The Mays were going to need a little help from their friends.
Invention in motion
In the mid-90s, Mohammed Nasser and Don West drove north to be part of the Dayton Ohio Inventors Council. These men had ideas; they had the means to work out those ideas; they just needed a place to maximize the potential of their inventions.
West, who has over 50 patents to his name, was the inventor of the inkjet printer, developed a better way to scan products for purchase, and even invented the little round ball of type on older models of IBM typewriters. Since no such place for inventors existed in Central Kentucky in the 90s, Nasser and West traveled three hours north, then three hours back for each meeting.
Being inventors, they decided there had to be a better solution, so they made one with the help of Craig McAnelly with Bluegrass Area Development District.
McAnelly is the current Assistant Executive Director and the Director for Industrial and Business Development at BGADD. His job is to work with business and industry for the betterment of Kentucky. In the earlier days, part of his job was writing on-the-job training contracts.
“I would meet with business and industry and do an assessment of the jobs they were hiring for and I brought job descriptions up and cross referenced them with federal job classifications and determined how much training they could get, how much reimbursement for the training,” McAnelly said. “In doing that, you learn the manufacturing process and you learn who they are doing business with and you learn what needs they might have. When you carry that around with you, from plant to plant, you run into a guy who is having a problem with his machinery and you can say, ‘I know a guy who can fix that because he just fixed his.’ It’s networking.”
That was exactly what Nasser and West needed.
McAnelly ran the meetings for about three years. He helped Nasser and West recruit people who were inventors, entrepreneurs, machinists and tool and die guys. The BGADD also provided the group a place to meet, offering them use of a conference room and audio visual equipment.
At first, the group worked as a chapter of the Dayton Ohio Inventors Council, but as the interest grew and the needs of the group changed somewhat, they decided a local organization would be even more fitting. After a few name changes, the present-day group is called the Inventors Council Central Kentucky, and it operates under the umbrella of the Inventors Network Kentucky, a 501c3 non-profit group. The current president is Don Skaggs, a local inventor who happens to know a little bit about how to make things work.
Invention in meeting
On the first and second Tuesday of each month, inventors will find Don Skaggs at the head of the BGADD conference room. He adjusts his trademark suspenders before he introduces the speaker for the night.
“I always wish, when people ask me what I do for a living, that I had one of those really simple answers like an accountant, or an attorney, or a plumber,” he says. “For a lot of inventors and entrepreneurs, it is hard to explain what all we do.”
While Skaggs has several patents to his name, he admits his inventions are “really boring.” He started a company in 1991 that made specialty products for the pathology laboratory industry. One of those inventions was a material that would neutralize waste formaldehyde solutions and change it irreversibly to a non-toxic material in about 15 minutes. His company, located in Lexington, developed about 30 different specialty products before he sold it to a larger company out of Texas.
Now, he says, his passion is to help other inventors follow their passions.
“There are always new ideas out there. It’s great for economic development; it’s great for the economy. Moreover, with the independent inventor, the entrepreneur, it’s very good for their personal economy,” Skaggs says. “A lot of people will build a new life and a legacy for themselves and their family.”
In order to help folks, Skaggs says the Inventors Council Central Kentucky offers two meetings a month. The first Tuesday of each month is a Free Open meeting and it is just as it sounds – free and open to all. It is at this meeting where speakers address topics like legal issues, product development, prototyping, marketing.
“We try to make it educational and interesting. We learn a lot, we network, we have a lot of fun, but it you have an idea and it’s not protected and you want to talk about it, that’s not the meeting for that,” Skaggs says.
The second Tuesday of each month is “a very different animal” of a meeting. This meeting is for members only — those who have paid their annual $40 dues, and those who have signed a non-disclosure agreement that is strictly followed by group members.
“At the second meeting, all the members show up, we go around the room and introduce ourselves in case there is someone new there, and then we go around the room again and everyone has a chance to talk about their idea, their invention, their business or where they need help,” Skaggs explains. “Instead of just getting one person’s opinion, they get a whole room full of people with different skill sets and expertise and points they might not have ever seen for their invention. You almost have to experience it to really understand it, but think of it as a brainstorming session on steroids.”
The group was just what Adam and Kara Mays needed.
The rise of entre-inventors
We’ve all seen them. They are the commercials on television that promise fame and fortune. Have an idea? Come up with an invention? For a measly price of $10,000, this company can do all the work for you. The only problem, of course, is that the investment of $10,000 doesn’t bring fame or fortune. It does, however, bring a lesson learned the hard way.
It’s this lesson that Skaggs wants all inventors to avoid. It’s the lesson that Adam and Kara Mays wanted to avoid as well.
Adam, who has his MBA from the University of Kentucky, knows enough about the business world to be successful. It was the part where idea turns into prototype turns into product that was a little fuzzy.
Enter the Inventors Council Central Kentucky. The Mays started going to open meetings about a year and a half ago. It didn’t take them long to figure out they needed to become full members, so they signed on and were admitted to the ‘meetings on steroids.’
“Overall, they help you. Sometimes, when you just verbalize what you’re trying to do, they will ask questions about things we have or haven’t done. Not really directives, just getting you thinking about the path you need to go down,” Adam says. “Some inventors spend their life in a bubble and they spend ten years on a product that nobody really wants.”
The Mays enlisted a seamstress relative to make a prototype Mommy Pouch. They used one and gave Mommy Pouches to other mothers for feedback on the product. The Mays knew they wanted to support local, Kentucky business, so they found a manufacturer in Liberty, Kentucky called Snapdolls, that could make the product.
Aided with an entrepreneurial drive and the innovative spirit of invention, along with the help of Inventors Council Central Kentucky, the Mays officially became entre-inventors and the Mommy Pouch became a success.
“We aren’t selling out of the back of our car anymore. We’ve sold several hundreds of these and we are successful in the local market,” Adam says. “Larger stores and other regions are next.”
Kara agrees about the success part. An added bonus, she says, is that the moms who used the Mommy Pouch are now buying them to give as gifts at baby showers.
It’s this kind of success story that keeps driving McAnelly, Skaggs and the rest of the council.
“If you build it they will come only works in Kevin Costner movies,” Skaggs says. “A lot of inventors are inherently tinkerers, inherently engineers. They have some fantastic talents.”
Together, folks like the Mays, organizations like the BGADD, and groups like the Inventors Council Central Kentucky are making life easier, one invention at a time.
Kristy Robinson Horine is a freelance writer from Paris. She wrote this story for the Bluegrass Area Development District.