LAS VEGAS - Many parents know that sinking feeling when they are shopping in a crowded mall, and they look around to find that the child they thought was following is suddenly missing. And we've heard those announcements at sporting events: ``Would the parents of Suzy Q. please come to the lost-and-found to claim her?'' Andrew Ha, president of A+H International Products Inc. and inventor of BeeperKid, often went to the mall with his family and saw kids on leashes.
He thought, ``With all the new technology around us, a dog leash on a kid is the best we can do?''
He studied the market, but found nothing in the way of a wireless transmission device. The more he thought about the idea, the more convinced he became it was one that would succeed. In 1990, Ha quit his job as a design engineer for a construction company and formed a company to develop the product.
With only $5,000 in his bank account, Ha went searching for help. Although everyone he explained his product to thought it was a great idea, Ha said, few were willing to risk any money.
Ha admits that the most challenging aspect for any entrepreneur is not designing the plastic parts or the molds, but obtaining the financial backing to get a product from concept to market.
``I spend 50 percent of my time looking for money,'' he said at his company's booth at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. ``It's one of the keys to surviving as an entrepreneur.''
Ha, who lived in Hawaii at the time, finally received financial help through that state's Innovation Loan Program. Additional investors then joined him and soon Ha had a working prototype.
He found a manufacturing company that agreed to make the investment in designing the product's electronics in exchange for the manufacturing rights, which Ha said was the most difficult design job.
Lev Chapelsky, Ha's roommate from college and an industrial designer, joined him and together they designed the plastic housings.
BeeperKid comes with a stand that serves as a battery charger, and interlocking units for parent and child. The parent's unit has a belt clip, while the child's unit pins onto clothing.
The on-and-off switch is built in so that detaching the parent's unit from the child's automatically activates the beeper. The parent's unit will begin beeping if the child wanders more than 15 feet from the parent.
In 1992, BeeperKid received a Gold award in the Industrial Design competition sponsored by Business Week magazine, and was named in Time magazine's 10 Best Designs listing. Although the product looked good and the concept was accepted by the market, the radio frequency technology it used was unreliable. To overcome that hurdle, Ha licensed a proprietary digital wireless transceiving technology originally designed for military applications.
Ha uses a mold maker and molder in Taiwan who built the molds without detailed drawings and got it right the second time, he said.
After four years, BeeperKid finally went on the market 90 days ago and is doing well, according to Ha.
He hopes to expand the technology beyond the juvenile market, perhaps as an aid for people with Alzheimer's disease.
BeeperKid has a suggested retail price of $149.