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From mind to marketplace

Published December 31, 2006


Inventor: Michael A. Wehrell, 45, South Tampa.

Occupation: Inventor of athletic performance enhancement equipment; engineer.

What his invention does: It's an athletic training system to improve speed, power and vertical jump.

How he came up with it: When I was at the University of Florida, I wanted to participate in a boxing charity event, so I invented a boxing training system called the Exervest. Later I played volleyball in California, and since I was 5-foot-8, I invented Vertimax to help me jump higher. It took me about two years between the time I invented it and built my first prototype in the back of my house to the time I sold my first system to UCLA in 1989. I built them in my garage, selling them to universities and high schools until 2002 when I started my own company manufacturing Vertimaxes.

How much money spent to get it going: About $900,000 ... from an idea into production.

Made any money off it: $134,000 in 2002, $2.2-million in 2006; has sold 3,400 of them since 1989. The machines cost from $1,695 up to $2,895, depending on complexity. Currently, 11 NFL teams, nine NBA teams, four NHL teams, four major league baseball teams and 70 Division I schools are using it. Both Fiesta Bowl teams, Ohio State and the University of Florida, train with it.

Other inventions: Exervest, a mobile gym that you wear on your back and use to exercise your upper body. Boxer Evander Holyfield trained with it when he defended his heavyweight title against George Foreman in 1991, but it was never put into production. The Cyclone, an electronic horse or dog racing training system that uses a monorail to apply resistance to the animal as it runs. Patented in the United States, but not yet in production.

A Tampa mother of five said God led her to create a nail polish remover kit. She's now trying to patent. A Tierra Verde homemaker found her invention by swinging a bat to ward off stray dogs. And a 5-foot-8 South Tampa man is making millions off a fitness device he made to help him jump higher as a volleyball player. Florida residents were issued about 3,500 patents this year - up about 20 percent from last year. The state ranked ninth in the nation in the number of patents issued in 2005. While researchers toiling away in high-tech centers get most of the attention for disease-curing work, hundreds of patents went to backroom inventors creating unique products. Most patent holders will never see their inventions move from paper to product, while others have earned millions of dollars. Still others have spent millions trying to get their inventions noticed. Here are a few of Tampa Bay's inventors, from those who are just starting out, to those who have made their mark:

Body Bat aerobic exerciser

Inventor: Karin Globus, 65, Tierra Verde.

Occupation: Stay-at-home wife, exercise studio owner.

What her invention does: Upper body exerciser for walkers. The walker swings the wood bat in a pendulum motion, 115 to 130 times a minute.

How she came up with it: In 1992, I was walking with my husband in North Carolina, where we lived. I was afraid of stray dogs, so I carried a small baseball bat. I was swinging it with my upper body as I walked and before you knew, in two weeks, I lost three pounds. I knew it had to be longer so I made both sides perfectly the same and tapered, and I changed the knobs so they were smooth and round and fit comfortably in the hand. Other people began to notice that it improved my energy level. I made a drawing and called an attorney.

How much money spent to get it going: I have spent $1-million trying to get this off the ground. ... Right now Louisville Slugger manufactures it, and I sell it at my dance studio on St. Pete Beach called Body Bat Dance Aerobics.

Making any money off it: I have sold between 2,000 and 3,000 body bats, which cost $69.95.

Other inventions: None.

Nail polish remover kit

Inventor: Debra Barclay, 44, New Tampa.

Occupation: Stay-at-home wife, mother of five.

What her invention does: Allows user to paint finger nails and toe nails without messing one up while working on the other.

How she came up with it: I went to a church service and it was about how God wants people to prosper. My brother was talking about patenting something, and I thought, if I invent something, what would I do? And I recalled how I painted my toenails on the patio porch and I made a mess of my finger nails. ... I looked around at the stores and saw bottles where you stick your fingernail in. So through prayer and questioning the techniques out there, a new idea popped into my head. I prayed to God about the design and thought about the eye of the needle like a Bible verse, and I put a wand on the jar top with a hole so you can thread a sponge through it. Now you have one product instead of three.

How much money spent to get it going: I put $12,000 into it so far, mostly for patent attorneys. My best friend invested $7,500.

Making any money off it: No. Patent pending.

Other inventions: A nail polish bottle that has a fingernail attached to it on the outside so you can see if the color matches your skin tone. It also allows you to use it as a scraping device to scrape off excess fingernail paint that gets in the cuticles. Patent pending.

Inventor: Stacie Linsky, 30, Davis Islands.

Occupation: Mother of one.

What her invention does: A form-fitting T-shirt that teaches a woman how to do breast exams and allows them to mark any lumps that she finds.

How she came up with it: I was in law school at the University of Florida. I was at my yearly (breast) exam and my doctor asked me if I was doing my yearly exam. I told him that I had fibrous breasts so it was impossible for me to do an exam because I couldn't differentiate what was "normal" and what would be trouble. After that appointment, I started thinking about what I could do in order to keep track of my normal lumps. I figured if I could get a form fitting T-shirt, then I could draw directly on my breasts to create a record. ... Because I was in law school, I sat on the idea for a few years. When I told my idea to my future business partner, she convinced me to pursue the idea. We worked with an oncologist to develop our first prototype.

How much money spent to get it going: $16,000 to get patents and develop it.

Making any money off it: I've sold 5,107 T-shirts in the U.S. since July 2004. The T-shirts cost $24.99 plus shipping from my Mark for Life Web site. We have made about $250,000, not including expenses. We are partners with the University of Miami's Sylvester Cancer Center and donate a portion of each sale to breast cancer research at their facility.

Other inventions: None

Mark for Life breast exam T-shirt

Inventor: John Sollazzo, 55, Sarasota.

Occupation: Retired human resources professional.

What his invention does: A beverage tray with a pistol grip and recessed cup holders on either side.

How he came up with it: I grew up in a family of tinkerers. I spent a lot of time in bars because I was a musician, and over the years I watched waiters and waitresses. Like most folks who do this, I was trying to solve a problem. A normal waitress tray is a round disc, and he or she is carrying it up over their head, wrist bent back as far as it can go, and I don't know how many times I've seen those crash. I developed a scale model of it years ago but I was working 50 or 60 hours a week, and I had no time to pursue these things then.

How much money spent to get it going: About $10 in materials to make the prototype and a couple thousand dollars for a patent attorney.

Making any money off it: No.

Other inventions: When I was 19 years old, the first invention I made was an amplifier switching device to instantly switch channels with a foot pedal. I never. ... tried to patent it ... years later (I) saw it appear as a feature on new amplifiers. I also developed a bracket that holds music that slips right over a microphone stand.

Ergonomic beverage serving tray

Inventor: Alex Dunser, 37, Davis Islands.

Occupation: Real estate and corporate lawyer.

What his invention does: The customer slides a built-in canister with sanitizer along the shopping cart handle. The canister can also be used to advertise other products.

How he came up with it: A few years ago, I went back to school to get my MBA. I had been consulting in the grocery store industry, and I had seen a growing awareness for germs on public surfaces. ... Today, 12,000 stores have wipes for customers to use, but less than 20 percent of customers are aware of it and it would be a significant cost for grocery stores if every customer used them. I came up with a number of variations, but the one I pursued was a traveling reservoir for sanitizer on the handle.

How much money spent to get it going: I cannot reveal this information in light of some of my pending negotiations. I can say that I have invested hundreds of hours and incurred significant professional fees from outside legal, design and other consultants. I anticipate that the development of our field test fleet of shopping carts is budgeted to cost in the neighborhood of $500,000.

Making any money off it: No, but I'm working with one local retailer and a national retailer to test it out. Patent pending.

Other inventions: None.


Inventor: Joann S. Kole, 41, New Tampa.

Occupation: Interior designer.

What her invention does: A bike helmet with detachable hairpieces, including braids and ponytails in different colors.

How she came up with it: I like to skate, but I wanted the feeling of my hair flowing in the wind, so I came up with a bike helmet kit for girls. They can apply hairpieces of different colors to the helmets. It would encourage helmet use and prevent head injuries and also make them feel special. I have a patent. It's now with a marketing company out of Maine that is trying to market the product to a number of companies.

How much money spent to get it going: Not available.

Making any money off it: No.

Other inventions: Yoga mat with an irregular shape so user doesn't have to shift mat around if he or she changes position. Patent pending.

Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report.

Vertimax, athletic training system

KleenKart shopping cart handle sanitizer

[Last modified December 31, 2006, 01:00:18]

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