Being Thomas Edison
That’s the dream for every would-be inventor. One Charlotte company is helping it become a reality for some
The Gyro Bowl, a spill-proof snack container for kids, is one of Edison Nation’s biggest successes. You can see the stages of its development here.
About eight years ago, Brad and Melinda Shepard, a Wilmington couple, were learning firsthand the definition of “terrible twos” with their son Aidan. He “was at the age where he wanted to carry and do for himself, but wasn’t at an age where he was good at it,” says Melinda.
“He was spilling Cheerios and fishy crackers everywhere.”
Tired of vacuuming up snack foods, Melinda looked around at stores to see if she could find a solution. She searched online as well, but to no avail. “I was complaining about it, and Brad said ‘Well, I’ll just make you something.’ He created this bowl. … It was this huge, green, ugly thing.”
Brad’s bowl rotated closed when turned upside down. “Like Melinda said, it was ugly,” concedes Brad, an engineer. “But functionally it worked
Melinda wasn’t keen on their son carrying around an unsightly contraption. “It sat on the shelf in our home office forever,” she says. “We would pull it out when friends would come over and go, ‘Check this out,’ but never used it.”
They still believed it was a great and useful concept, though, and often wondered “what if.” In 2005, the couple learned about casting calls for a new reality-television show called Everyday Edisons that was going to help ordinary people and independent inventors get their ideas developed into products.
Enventys, a Charlotte-based firm that specializes in industrial design, branding, and advertising, created the show. The Shepards made the trip to a casting call in Columbia. The casting directors were impressed and selected the Shepards for the first season of the series, which
premiered on PBS in spring 2007.
If you watched season one of Everyday Edisons, you’ll recall seeing Brad’s prototype being modified, enhanced, and beautified over a series of episodes (several months in real time). And then in the final episode, the Shepards were taken on a surprise trip to Bed Bath & Beyond, where the Loopa Bowl was on sale. The spill-proof children’s snack bowl rotates 360 degrees—similar to a globe—and conceptually is similar to Brad’s early prototype, but now it’s pretty, sleek, and kid friendly.
“We had the opportunity to work with the people at Enventys to bring this from a rough concept to a store-ready product,” Brad says. “To me, the education of seeing that process has been the best part of the whole experience. The money is great, of course [the Shepards get half of the royalties], but it’s such a wonderful opportunity to be able to walk through with professionals from start to finish. And it’s really made us realize how much effort goes into bringing a product to market.”
That was the goal for Everyday Edisons when Enventys founder and CEO Louis Foreman was hatching the idea. The show, which has won two
Emmys, is in production for its fourth season, scheduled to premiere in April. And along the way, a new business venture was spawned—Edison Nation.
“When we look at thousands of ideas for the TV show, and we only choose ten, there are some really good ideas we’re not choosing,” Foreman says. “We also recognized that there’s a big and growing market for people who have ideas, but don’t know what to do with their ideas.” That’s where Edison Nation comes in.
Tucked away in a quiet part of uptown is a hundred-year-old brick building. It’s a place where ideas come to life almost magically. Foreman moved Enventys to the building in 2003. Today it also houses sister companies Edison Nation, Everyday Edisons, and the monthly magazine Inventors Digest—sixty employees altogether.
This article appears in the December 2011 issue of Charlotte Magazine
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