Sunday, January 25, 2004

Bright ideas compete for prize


Staples holds invention finals

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

HEBRON - If all the bright ideas presented Saturday at the Cincinnati Airport Marriott had been light bulbs, the hotel would have glowed.

The occasion was the regional semifinals of the Staples Invention Quest, a sort of "inventor's invitational" sponsored by the office supply chain.

"We're looking for a product that would make your life at work or at home easier," said Joy Errico of Staples' public relations staff.

Seventeen creative minds from six Midwestern states made their pitches before a panel of five judges Saturday. Ron Mighell of Anderson Township was among them, touting his concept for a retractable extended-reach stapler.

"I always wanted a larger-capacity stapler, because I publish pamphlets that need to be stapled along the fold," he said.

Mighell related his frustrations with existing extended-reach staplers, which he finds heavy and cumbersome. His design allows the user to expand the device to the desired length and telescope it to normal size when it's not in use. Fabricating some parts of durable plastic would reduce the stapler's weight, he said.

At the close of his presentation, Mighell - like all the other contestants - answered judges' questions about the design and construction of his product, how it might be marketed and to whom, and possible spin-offs.

"We ask ourselves, 'Is this something the office supply customer would want to find, or be excited to find, at Staples?'' said Kevin Thomas, Staples' Cincinnati-based regional vice president.

Inventors proposed products ranging from safety push-pins to roll-up whiteboards to label-toting rubber bands to a multi-use tool that would be the office equivalent of a Swiss army knife.

The retailer received more than 8,300 entries. The 100 semifinalists are attending one of six regional sessions this month. Twelve national finalists will receive a trip for two to New York City for the Invention Quest finals on March 10.

"The idea selected will be developed and sold by Staples," Thomas said. "The winner will receive a $25,000 grand prize, and the 11 finalists will receive $5,000." Will Staples hold an Invention Quest again next year? Staples judge Beth Obermiller replied, "We want to see how we survive the first one."

An inventor's dreamGood ideas often languish for lack of startup funds, for production challenges and patent-related problems. Inventors who clear those hurdles, however, can find that marketing their products can be even more challenging. That's why it can be a dream come true when a retail giant takes an invention under its wing, assuming everything from production costs to packaging and promotion.

Besides a $25,000 prize, Staples says that the lucky winner will receive royalties. The product will be sold online at Staples.com and stocked in all 1,100 Staples stores in the United States.




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