Soggy cereal. A broken cookie. A daughter's school lunch.
Three different moments from everyday life which prompted three different people to launch new products and follow paths, and show how product development is increasingly taking place outside the boundaries of big business.
Everything doesn't have to come from a think tank, said Robert Haleluk, who created The Dipr after losing one too many Oreo cookies in a glass of milk. Everything doesn't have to be ready to go immediately on sale to WalMart. I don't have to go to China to make it in big quantities.
New York-based Haleluk raised money for the first polypropylene Diprs from the Internet crowd sourcing site kickstarter.com.
Michael Roberts developed the PP Obol with separate areas for milk and dry cereal with advice from friends at injection molding company Medway Plastics Corp.
Both creators are focused on developing new products using U.S. manufacturing. Erin Franczyk, who created the PP Goodbyn bento box for her daughters' school lunches after wondering why she needed to use so many plastic bags to keep food separated, is working with injection molder Cascade Engineering Inc. of Grand Rapids, Mich., on her lunch box.
Franczyk said she wanted something that was cool and her daughters would use, but at the same time be sustainable. Making it in the U.S., where it would be sold, was an important part of Naperville, Ill.-based Goodbyn LLC's carbon footprint.
How do we make something different? Franczyk said she asked herself while developing the lunch box with business partner Robert Gremer.
None of the three products which made their debut at the International Home + Housewares Show in Chicago, March 6-8 are treading completely new ground. Entrepreneurs have been creating better mousetraps for as long as that saying has existed.
But Jason Foster, whose own new brand of reusable cleaning systems, Replenish, just was accepted for store shelves at Whole Foods markets in the Midwest, said the business climate today opens more channels for new companies to pursue.
Foster, the founder and CEO of Replenish Bottling Co. Inc. of West Hollywood, Calif., compares it to being an independent rock band. Companies today can use the Internet to reach out to people who might be interested in their products, and slowly build interest and loyalty until they break through, rather than waiting for major markets to notice. The continually evolving Internet offers firms a new route.
Two years ago, when I had this vision, I knew I couldn't walk into a big company and say 'Hey, I think you guys should build this,' Foster said. They would have laughed me out of the room. That's what the democratization of the Internet brings. It's empowering young companies like us to connect with customers, and then we can influence some of the big companies who are more risk-averse.
The Dipr is just one example of that Internet business approach. Haleluk had some understanding of business and plastics from his family. His father, Fred Haleluk, uses injection molders in New Jersey to mold parts for his Mr. Icebucket brand. But Robert Haleluk's training and career were in graphic design until the night his Oreo cookie broke off in a glass of milk and he told himself that was going to be the last cookie he lost.
The next day he picked up some clay and began developing a hook-shaped utensil that would hold a sandwich cookie for dunking. He continued on, developing prototypes with a three-dimensional printer. But he was not certain where to go next, until he stumbled across the website kick starter.com.
The site gives entrepreneurs like Haleluk a place to post videos about their ideas, and ask for funding from its range of members, who support everything from film and art to new products. The Dipr had $10,000 pledged within 30 days enough to develop early molds and turn out the first marketable parts.
From idea to creation, everything is changing, Haleluk said.
Across the country in California, Michael Roberts began development of his Obol in nearly the same way, using modeling clay to create the basic design that he'd imagined, with one part of the bowl to hold dry cereal until he was ready to scoop it down into the other section filled with milk.
Roberts' business background in construction gave him a comfort level when he worked with a computer-aided design engineer to develop drawings for the Obol, but he said he also drew heavily on connections with contract molder Medway in Long Beach, Calif., to help him understand the complexity of actually manufacturing his concept.
The company and its contacts with toolmakers taught him about the materials they could use, the complexity of different thicknesses and the core pull needed for the cavity at the bottom of the bowl for a hand-hold.
Getting the final product in front of users has led to more uses, such as for soup and crackers, Asian food, and milk and cookies, he said.
Roberts has taken advantage of the Internet to sell and promote the Obol, with videos showing it being used and links to bloggers who use and write about it.
Goodbyn links users both on its own site and through the social network Facebook, letting potential customers know about shipping deals, replacement drink bottles and other details.
The Goodbyn and its smaller companion, the Bynto, are made solely of PP to ease recyclability for parents looking for greener options. The boxes include stickers so kids can personalize them, Franczyk said.
It's such a progression to go from having an idea to saying, 'Wow, I really did this. I made this,' Haleluk said. I've helped four or five friends put their own ideas into practice, and I really think more and more people are going to get into it too.