CHICAGO (March 30, 1:05 p.m. ET) — Sunny Weiss stands in front of a panel of product experts and pulls up on the lever at the center of his injection molded Brinee container.
The liquid surrounding olives stored in the outer ring is pulled away by a vacuum and stored in an inner opening as he moves the lever, and Weiss shows the judges how easy it then is to grab an olive without getting his fingers wet.
Push down, and the brine reappears. Put the lid on the container, and it's ready for storage.
“This can work with pickles, with feta cheese, with a lot of things,” he tells them.
The panelists ask what his price is for the bowl and whether it's already in production.
“If you want to sell it someplace like [cable shopping channel] QVC, you'll want bundling,” says B.J. Fazeli, whose BHS Global Direct in Irvine, Calif., has brought a variety of consumer products to market. “Two for $14.99 or something.”
Then Weiss' seven minutes in front of the Inventor's Revue panel is over. As he collects his items, the next entrepreneur is already standing next to him, looking for his own advice for marketing a housewares item to the consumer.
The review, sponsored by the United Inventors Association, was new to the 2012 International Home + Housewares Show, held March 10-13 in Chicago, and had a steady stream of entrepreneurs like Weiss ready to hone their pitches.
There was no funding money in place — unlike television shows such as Shark Tank — but the experts on hand were ready to give their advice on real-world issues the inventors would face as they marketed their products.
“Why not make it out of plastic?” Fazeli asked Evan Ward as he showed off his bamboo cookbook holder, “The Flip.”
“I wanted to make it out of sustainable products,” Ward told him.
Fazeli pointed out that Ward was limiting his product reach by using more expensive materials and a more expensive manufacturing process, then added: “You can always use recycled material to be more eco-friendly.”
The housewares show is anchored by international brands like Rubbermaid, Hampton Forge, Aladdin and Nespresso, but hundreds of small startups are in every hall of Chicago's McCormick Place, hoping to break through by attracting the right buyer.
Many are like Weiss. An electrical engineer by training, he spent a year researching injection molding once he came up with his idea for the Brinee — a bowl with a central storage area for liquid when it's not wanted, and easy long-term storage. His Brinee Home Solution Ltd. began making and selling the container in his home country of Israel early this year, and Weiss came to Chicago looking for contacts that would lead him to distributors elsewhere.
The Inventor's Revue was hosted by Brian Fried, president of Melville, N.Y.-based Think Up Designs. The revue had a steady stream of product developers each morning and afternoon — many of them with their first product, created in a moment when they thought: There should be a better way.
“Ours was a story that really begins with, ‘Two guys walk into a bar,' ” said Jim Beachler.
He and his business partner watched a waitress wipe down a table with a damp cloth, then watched her put the cloth into her apron. They both thought there should be a better way to carry a towel for cleanups. By the end of the night, they'd sketched out what would become the Towel Dog, a polypropylene holder that clips onto belts or pockets.
St. Louis-based Towel Dog's first production run sold out during their first show, Beachler said. From his booth near the Inventor's Revue, he watched his fellow entrepreneurs and the panelists.
There were some interesting products and good feedback, he said, but the panel may have provided its best service just by getting new business owners to learn how to sell themselves.
“A lot of people don't know how to make a quick pitch,” he noted as Fried warned one man he was about to run out of time before the panelists even had a chance to comment. “That takes time.”