Over 800 entrepreneurial hopefuls showed up for a casting call for American Inventor on Broad Street near the New York Stock Exchange this morning. Most of them had been awake since 3:00 a.m. to ensure a more favorable place in line. Unfortunately, with so many having the same idea simultaneously, they still had to suffer a wait time of over four hours in the drizzly rain and unseasonable chill.
One couple from Cleveland, the Jacksons, claimed to be the first in line with their prototype of a stroller with a DVD player attached to the tray. The "Watch & Stroll" cost them a hefty $45,000 in development. I immediately disapprove. Your kids will already be staring at television screens, theater film screens, computer screens, and phone screens as they age. You want to strap them in front of a portable DVD player while you walk through the park, too? Baby Einstein isn't THAT great.
A more promising invention came farther back in line from a couple of finance administration undergraduates at Montclair, Dan and Luke. The "Vertical Abdominal Exercise Machine" has come six months in the making. According to Luke, other machines on the market don't give you the versatility as this one which lets you fail after six reps, works each side independently, and can have over 100 pounds added. They brought a Photoshopped mock up design of the apparatus but haven't invested any other funding. Dan says that it will take only $350 to build the prototype, and then at scale $200. It will retail for $600. If ABC isn't impressed, Luke's got a very wealthy friend in Turkey who'll back the concept.
Standing next to these bright eyed youngsters is Rocco, a New York Fireman. He's a veteran of the American Idol casting call. That's right. He's a singing fireman. He got the idea for his invention when he arrived at the firehouse one day very late and bore a healthy teasing from his brother firefighters. It's a shirt with a built in alarm. Rocco says it's good for people who can't remember to set their clocks to take their meds, like Alzheimer's victims, but I wonder out loud to him how they will remember to put on the shirt. Good point, he says. He has another idea, too. It's a touchscreen display outside of businesses so they can remain virtually open 24 hours a day. Pedestrians, vacationers that chose not to bring a computer with them, any potential customer can receive immediate gratification when they pass a closed florist or ticket vendor. What about vandalism? I ask him. Rocco's not worried about that.
Another of New York's finest waits further back in line. John's idea came on the job, too, except his situation was literally in the line of fire. In 1998, he found himself lost and disoriented in a structural fire. He barely escaped with his life, but this near fatal experience also inspired him to seek a way for his fellow firemen to self rescue when faced with the same danger. It's not GPS, he says, but it helps you find your way out of the fire. He doesn't have a business plan or a degree in finance or technology; he doesn't know how much it will cost to build, market, or distribute; but, he knows that the device can be made with already existing material and circuitry and that it will save lives. He has a gravity about him that makes me believe him, and heavily lashed blue eyes that I'm sure will look great on television.
John tells me that he's not auditioning because he wants to be on television. He says there are no other resources for the little guy, that all of the VC money is for kids with software ideas and dot coms. He needs the seed capital this show offers and the sage advice of industry experts. Is a reality show the only answer? What advice would you give John?
I'll be tuning in to the season premier of American Inventor to see who makes the cut to the next round where they will actually show their wares to judges on camera. Thankfully, I'll be watching indoors.
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