Women inventors pursue their creative dreams: From doggie car seats to valve-less hydraulic systems, these visionaries keep creating practical products

December 12, 2005

Windshield wipers, disposable cell phones, Scotchgardâ„¢, the first automatic dishwasher, disposable diapers, Barbie dolls, nonreflective glass, brassieres, CPR mannequins and "whiteout."

These items have one key feature in common-they were all invented by women.

Since the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office does not keep gender statistics, it is impossible to know exactly how many patents women hold. One thing is certain: since 1809 when Mary Dixon Kies became the first woman to receive a patent from the government, many other women have been inspired to pursue their dreams of creating and producing a new product. Kies received her patent for creating the process of weaving straw with silk or thread.

In Indiana, women lay claim to inventing a car seat for dogs, a special cookware for microwave ovens, a mechanical valve-less hydraulic system for aircraft, automobiles, construction vehicles and other heavy equipment and a host of other products.

Christine Best of Indianapolis invented FidoRido, a car seat designed for dogs that has taken the pet market by storm.

Best comes from a long line of inventors. Her grandfather, Frank Best, invented the interchangeable lock core in 1912 and Founded Best Lock Corp., now called Best Access Systems. Her father, Donald, worked as an engineer for the company.

"I came up with the idea of a car seat for dogs after I adopted a Japanese Sheba Inu puppy-it's something like a miniature Husky," Best said. "When I brought the puppy home it was all over me and the car and I thought 'This is an accident waiting to happen.' So I decided to build a car seat for it."

That was in 1999, and it took Best a year of research and development to come up with a prototype and another two years before the product hit the market. Today FidoRido, which retails for $69.99, can be found in pet stores across the nation and on the Internet at bestproductsinc.com.

From idea to market, FidoRido went through several renditions and improvements. The first dog seat was fashioned from a cat litter box, bungee cords and luggage straps and, using the car's seat belts, stayed secure in a car.

"In 2001, I made 50 of the seats out of cat litter boxes and took them to a pet expo in Sacramento and sold over half of them in three days," she said. "That told me there was a market for the car seats. But I really wanted something made from the same materials as a child's car seat, so I started looking for investors."

She didn't need to look further than Columbus, Ind. when John Councellor, president of First Metals and Plastics Technology Inc., committed to the product. With the guidance of an Indianapolis attorney, she formed her company in January of 2001 and was issued a patent for FidoRido in July 2003.

"John had just been in a car accident caused by a driver who was distracted by a dog in her vehicle, so he saw a need for the product," Best said. "After John committed to FidoRido, I was able to manufacture 2,000 of the seats and include a cushion, fleece cover and storage pouch in the package."

Until this year Best, a single mother, kept working part-time as a secretary to help support herself and her daughter. She worked on producing and marketing her project in her spare time. Recently she joined the Flagship Enterprise Center, a business incubator for start-up companies at her Alma Mater Anderson University, and started working full-time for her growing company.

Her commitment seems to have paid off. She received the 2005 Small Business Administration Entrepreneur of the Year in March and the Entrepreneurs' Alliance of Indiana Business Plan Contest in April.

Entrepreneurs' Alliance of Indiana is a network of entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners working together to help emerging businesses.

As the winner of this year's competition, Best will receive a business coach, accounting and legal advice and help with marketing, technology, research and business development.

"2005 has been a wonderful year for me," Best said. "Not only am I able to devote my professional life to FidoRido but I married a wonderful man."

Part of her future business plan is a broadcast commercial to air in the Midwest and focus on building the infrastructure of BEST Products.

Cooking up new products

Kim Harvey of Indianapolis didn't happen upon an idea to produce and market - she went looking for ideas. She now has four business enterprises she founded and manages: Microwave Magic Cookware, Kim's Key Lime Cookies, Lotto Luck Fortune Cookies and Live Music of Indiana.

"I went to Indiana University in Bloomington to become an entrepreneur and inventor," Harvey said. "I majored in design and minored in business and marketing. I had no idea what I wanted to create, but I knew I would invent things."

In 1992, she created Kim's Key Lime Cookies Corp. and put her key lime cookies on the market in San Francisco, Disney World, Nordstrom's and Macy's.

"Right now I am in discussions with Starbuck's to offer Kim's Key Lime Cookies in their coffeehouses," Harvey said.

The cookie is a basic cookie recipe with key lime flavoring and dipped in white chocolate.

In 2000, Harvey created Live Music of Indiana, a company that helps promote local bands and brings national bands to central Indiana.

"I have always had a passion for music and I'm one of those people who becomes totally focused on what I am working on. I bring the national bands here, photograph them and review their music and post the reviews on my Web site," Harvey said. "Now I have readers from all over the world visiting my Live Music Web site."

The ideas kept flowing for Harvey and in 2002, the day after Thanksgiving, she was just falling asleep when an idea for another new product came to her.

"I sat right up in bed and it hit me-an infomercial on microwave cookware," she said. "So I created five pieces, got five patents and five trademarks for Microwave Magic Cookware."

The cookware set includes a burger blaster, hot dogger, hot potato, bun warmer and a "splatz" that protects the interior roof of a microwave. The set was featured last February on QVC, the nation's largest television shopping network.

"I am close to finalizing a deal on placing Microwave Magic in 20,000 retail stores," Harvey said.

Next came the Lotto Luck Fortune Cookies-bright red fortune cookies that contain random numbers used in lotto drawings. "I'm in negotiations now to put these cookies in nationwide convenience stores and other national locations where lottery tickets are sold," she said.

Harvey plans to continue creating as many products as she can.

"The biggest thrill for me is negotiating the deal because I like a challenge," she said. "The biggest challenge has been waiting for the right company to sell each product for me. My plate is overly full right now, but I wouldn't have it any other way."

Harvey said there are three keys to success in creating and marketing new products: business, marketing and funding. "If you don't have those three things behind you, then you are probably setting yourself up to failure."

Monika Ivantysynova of West Lafayette has helped create a different type of product through her position as the MAHA Fluid Power Systems Professor in Purdue University's School of Mechanical Engineering and Purdue's Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Her invention is a "valve-less" hydraulic system that uses about 25 percent less energy and can be used in almost all types of aircraft, automobiles, construction vehicles and other applications.

"I've been working on a displacement control equipment-or valve-less hydraulics-since the early 1990s when I was involved with aerospace research to create new possibilities for valve systems," Ivantysynova said. "I studied this and thought it might be possible to create a valve-less system."

For the next 15 years, she studied powerful hydraulic actuators that are needed to adjust the position of aircraft flaps, operate steering systems for cars and trucks and drive machinery in heavy equipment for digging, earth-moving and other equipment.

Inventions like these and many others are on the rise. According to the Indiana University Research & Technology Corp. in Indianapolis, a center that specializes in speeding up the process of commercializing scientific discoveries, 128 inventions were recorded from July 1 to mid-October.

Help from organizations like the Small Business Administration or Entrepreneurs' Alliance of Indiana is available for those with an idea and a desire to invent.

"Everywhere you look there are opportunities to improve old products and develop new ones," said Doug Edge, executive director of Entrepreneurs'Alliance of Indiana.

"If you think you have a good idea, then talk to an attorney and then go out and find out if it is something that can be used in the marketplace."

Kim Harvey's creative mind is constantly inventing new product ideas like her microwave cookware set sold on QVC or her latest-fortune cookies containing lotto numbers. Christine Best created a FidoRido prototype from of all things-a cat litter box.
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