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The Face Behind the Product

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Apologies for the tardiness of this post. I labored since viewing last week's episode of American Inventor over my gut reaction to one of the decisions.

As we've been reminded in every episode, the judges are looking for at least four qualities in the ideas and prototypes proffered by contestants: innovation, marketability, passion, and mass appeal. Most of the people who get air time on the show have passion, but combining innovation and mass appeal seems to be the tricky part. Any producer can tell you that marketability comes later. Do you remember what Kelly Clarkson looked like when she was just another girl in Burleson, Texas, and not the American Idol groomed super pop star? Just a smidge different.

In this past week's edition, we meet Bobby Lee Grissett, a 54 year-old cafeteria manager who is $11,000 in debt and has taken $33,000 out of his retirement fund to fund his 54-square cake-cutter. Both Blakely and Foreman were into it. Croce and Jones dismissed it, even after Blakely made a plea on Grissett's behalf enumerating the many applications of the cake-cutter. We also met Marcus "Sandy" Wall who served 28 years with a police department. He shared a video demonstration of his product that blows open locked doors with some kind of localized explosion. Almost all of the judges were enthusiastic about sending Wall along to the final round except Jones, again, who said "How can I possibly say 'no' to this" because it saves lives.



Jones said his reason for denying the banger passage into the next round was because the appeal was limited to those in law enforcement. Although Wall was eliminated when the judges ultimately chose brothers Joseph & Mike Miller with the under cupboard attachment, I am slightly offended that he was moved along to the finalist round for that city and Grissett was not. I'm sure there were lots of inventor hopefuls who auditioned and did not make it onscreen who had inventions for niche markets. But these are the two that made the cut into the broadcast, so these are the two I am drawing conclusions from.

So, although they were both stymied by really great products for a limited audience, the one inventor with more polish gained approval from the "board" while the other was dismissed. Do you think, as I suspect, that the inventors' difference in appearance contributed to the judges' decision? Do you think that appearance makes a big difference when entrepreneurs are seeking funding and other forms of support or assistance? Do you think it matters whether the face of the company is black or white? Do you think I'm overreacting?

We'd love to hear from you.

Last updated: Jul 23, 2007




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