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October 2010
Wanted: Innovative Ideas and New Challenges
By Carol Gifford

     How many times have you seen a product, delighted in its straightforward utility, and thought, “I could have invented that!”?

     So many products—charms for wine glasses, silly wrist bands shaped like animals and sports figures for kids to wear on their wrists, waste cans that open with a touch to a foot pedal, and other popular products—they seem so simple that it begs the question: Why did it take so long for this to hit the market?

     Many reasons, says Louis Foreman, founder and CEO of Enventys, a Charlotte product innovation development company that helps people and companies introduce new products and redesign existing ones. Foreman’s company transforms compelling ideas into new products, offering a suite of services.


Reaching Out to Inventors

     “Everyone has great ideas, but you also need the time, money and patience to see the idea start at the drawing board and make it through the process to the end product.

     “I want people to understand the product development process and to educate them on the responsible way of doing it,” says Foreman, personal inventor and holder of 10 patents.

     “Many inventors with new product ideas start on the process get disillusioned and can’t get to the final destination.”

     The company grew out of his own personal frustration, says Foreman. He founded the company in 2001 in Huntersville. The next year, he moved it to the 23,000-square-foot converted grist mill warehouse location in Charlotte. The company also has a Taiwan office.

     Enventys works with companies ranging in size from start-ups to Fortune 500 to help them grow by diversifying and improving existing product lines. Companies turn to Enventys for product development and specialization assistance to create intellectual property.

     The company worked with Britax to engineer and build a car seat and stroller combination, both designing and validating the concept. The redesign of the Boy Scouts of America handbook, used by millions of Americans each year, was a recent marketing project. Two popular infomercial products are Emery Cat, a cat scratching board, and Mr. Steamy, a steaming dryer ball that removes wrinkles in the dryer. Both products are sold in over 25,000 stores nationwide.

     The company also reaches out to new inventors with two new ventures that target beginning or small inventors: Everyday Edisons and Edison Nation.

     Everyday Edisons is an Emmy award-winning reality television series on American innovation that airs on PBS and just completed its third season. Evidence of its growing fan base is the skyrocketing number of people who attended casting calls—a jump from 2,000 in season one to 15,000 nationwide in season three—hoping for the chance to have their ideas developed into new products.

     The Everyday Edisons season three finale featured products that went to market including: a bed-surround clear plastic shoe storage skirt that holds 12 to24 pairs of shoes; night beams, a new kind of projecting night lights, and total wrench, an adjustable tool that works with standard and metric connections.

     Edison Nation is a social community website introduced in 2009 to encourage ingenuity where Enventys encourages “problem solvers” to share ideas.

     “It’s like Facebook for inventors,” says Foreman. “We launched 53 searches for new products for companies last year. We ask real people to tell us their ideas and we send the best along to the companies; it’s a matchmaking process.”

     The searches have resulted in products that include a stand to hold storage bags open, a burger baker pan and a burger stuffer utensil.

     Another outreach vehicle for inventors is Inventors Digest, a monthly trade publication acquired by Enventys in 2007 and now produced in-house.

     “People don’t understand how to determine if an idea is feasible,” explains Foreman, who developed several other start-ups and companies before moving to Charlotte to begin a NASCAR apparel company.

     Before investing money in an idea, he tells inventors that they need to be able to answer several questions about their proposed new product or service including: What’s unique about it? Who is the customer? Is there a demand for it? How much money will it take to commercialize it?


Choosing Inventor Partners

     Frank Ramsey is a Charlotte entrepreneur who came to Enventys after being scammed out of “a whole bunch of money from a company that said they would promote my product and did nothing.”

     “I heard about the Charlotte casting call for the first season of Everyday Edison’s in 2005 and I was selected to participate,” says Ramsey. “They filmed the process from start to finish. I’d go in every month or so and they’d film a different stage of the product.

     “They didn’t ask me for a dime, and they invested a lot of time and money in developing my product,” says Ramsey, who signed four utility patents for 20 years with Enventys for his Pressix application, a small device that is affixed inside stainless steel trash cans to hold the plastic liners in place.

     Ramsey said it took two to three years to get his product to market. He receives royalties of 15 percent for each product sold. The trash cans sell in Wal-Mart, Bed, Bath and Beyond and the Container Stores at prices ranging from $50 to $130.

     “Taking an invention from start to finish is not something the average person can do; it requires too many different skills and it’s a very complex process,” says Ramsey. “Enventys is a straight-up, straightforward company with a great pool of expertise. They tell you what they are going to do and they do it.”

     Foreman has the experience to help guide and educate new inventors. He serves on a public advisory committee for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and is an elected board member of the United Inventors Association, a national trade group. He is a frequent lecturer on small business creation and innovation and his company is credited with filing more than 400 patents for clients.

     Very involved in the Charlotte community, Foreman is a founding member of the Inventors Network of the Carolinas, a non-profit organization to empower inventors through education. He is also the Entrepreneur in Residence at the McColl School of Business at Queens College, and an award-winning instructor at Central Piedmont Community College.

     About 20 percent of the Enventys clients are from the Charlotte region.

     “We are very selective about the ideas and products we choose to work with,” explains Foreman. “Since we’re putting our skin in the game, it’s got to be a good fit.”


One-Stop Shop

    Enventys is a one-stop shop that can turn a great idea into a product, says Foreman. It offers a spectrum of services from industrial design, engineering and prototyping, advertising and branding, interactive and Web, video production and public relations. Clients may choose individual or the full suite of services to help develop a product or service.

    Cost is a factor in the decision to move forward. Product development isn’t cheap and inventors can spend a lot of money in the different phases. Enventys offers a fixed cost price for each project, thus allowing the client to determine whether the income potential justifies the cost to develop the product.

    “Our value proposition is that we have all the integrated resources an inventor needs in one place,” says Foreman. “We have really talented, passionate people who can provide the resources and tools clients need to understand the culture and market for product development.”

    Developing an idea begins with the ideation process, explains Daniel Bizzell, a partner who heads Enventys’ industrial design.

    “This is where you create intellectual property, validate it through consumer research and style the product from sketches to 3D virtual CAD modeling,” says Bizzell. “You need to exhaust the possibilities—we might conceptualize 100 different styles and take one to market.”

    There is value in doing such comprehensive work, says Bizzell. It helps fuel and adds synergy to other products under design, and could be used in the future if a company comes back a few years later to rework an existing product line.

      Enventys got its start designing products for military and law enforcement personnel, says Bizzell, making ballistics and protective gear out of new fibers that were better, lighter and faster. Innovative ideas developed there were later transitioned into sports products such as running gear and medical products like knee braces.

    Product styling and prototyping takes place in the engineering phase, a group headed by Ian Kovacevich, vice president and partner. Multi-shot injection molding, manufacturing specs and detail work are done in this phase.

    Enventys also offers marketing strategy including: advertising and branding, Internet and Web marketing, led by vice president Matt Spangard, video production, led by managing director Larry DeLeon, and public relations.

    Enventys gives everyday inventors the chance to compete with big companies and financiers to see their ideas become products. As they say: “Say hello to innovation. Get to know strategic branding. Shake hands with results.”

    “At Enventys we breathe new life into existing products and brands, as well as create new ones using an efficient, collaborative approach.”




Carol Gifford is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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