Ben Hobbins is hoping that his new stronger, soft-plastic lure will make a big splash in the fishing world.
Hobbins has been fishing for about 45 years. Matter of fact, since he was 3 years old. Now he's started Lake Resources Group Inc. in Waunakee, Wis., hoping that his patent-pending IronClad lures can please the nation's anglers and at the same time greatly diminish the amount of soft-plastic lures left on lake and river bottoms.
So far, things are looking up for the startup company. Lake Resources Group's lures have been drawing attention at various sports shows. Hobbins opened an office in Waunakee and is working on ways to distribute the lures, including through a new Web site that will be up soon.
He said that the initial IronClad offering will be at least six different lines. Each line will come in four sizes and in 12 colors.
``It has attracted interest and I've had a lot of inquiries for orders,'' he said.
There is a market for lures. The American Sportfishing Association of Alexandria, Va., estimates there are 40 million anglers accounting for $46 billion in retail sales.
The idea of an unbreakable worm came about when Hobbins went ice fishing. He said that the anglers' hands froze whenever they had to bait the hook. So, the theory goes: If the lure is stronger, the fish won't break it and you can keep fishing without getting your hands wet.
Hobbins, who has a couple of advanced degrees and experience with extrusion, turned to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Professor Phil Kim in the school's Weinert Entrepreneur program helped him determine the U.S. market for soft lures was $350 million, and that each year tons of the lures are lost.
``Actually the business and engineering departments networked nicely,'' Hobbins said.
That led to working with a team directed by Tim Osswald, director of the Polymer Engineering Center at UW Madison. They used a newly developed rapid-prototyping technology to test ideas and came up with a product that Osswald described as having incredible strength.
``These do not break - the heads will snap before the plastic will break,'' Hobbins said.
The patent-pending process consists of what Hobbins calls a nanofiber matrix.
In August, he got serious and raised $375,000 from family, friends and investors. Now, he has about 20 investors, including Osswald.
Both Hobbins and Osswald said that the process does offer promise in a lot of other fields - health care, military, outdoor recreation - any product that could benefit from being stronger. Hobbins said that he's looking at other applications and that the strong, reinforced soft-plastic composite can be injection molded, dipped and extruded.
You could say he's fishing for more business.