Every time Steve Waddell brushed his teeth he found his mouth filled with toothpaste--and his mind filled with a question that millions before him have pondered: What's the best way to rinse?
"Tilt your head under the faucet?" he asks. "Cup your hand? Have a glass beside the sink that gets dirty? Or even brush your teeth in the shower?"
His deliberations led him to create the Nasoni Dual-Purpose Faucet, a gadget that combines the attributes of a fountain and a faucet. The water flows down through the nozzle when you wash your hands, but simply turn a small lever and the water streams out of a hole at the top, letting you take a sip to rinse.
This clever-yet-simple idea won first place in Get Started: Hampton Roads, the Virginia leg of a "Shark Tank"-like series of events held around the country in which local entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of experts.
"He was really confident and polished in his presentation," said Ken Kraft, a Get Started judge and vice president of marketing for Cox Business, one of the event's sponsors. "The audience was impressed when he enthusiastically held up a framed copy of his patent, which he had just gotten."
Waddell's route to that triumphant moment was just the latest in a career that has combined a talent for design with a keen interest in entrepreneurship. Waddell spent 25 years building aircraft carriers and submarines. Eight years ago, he joined a technology consultancy, Reed Integration, which was started by his wife; last year it ranked 997th on the Inc. 5000 list of America's fastest growing companies.
Waddell's journey from idea to execution began with the purchase of a fiberglass sink, which he attached to a garden hose for some initial fiddling. Meanwhile, he researched the concept and learned that drinking fountains called Nasoni, which were first installed in Rome in 1874, shared a similar design, but required that you cover a hole at the bottom of the fountain to allow water to flow from another hole in the top.
"The Italian fountains are shaped like a long nose, so they became known as 'Nasoni', which stands for 'big nose' in Italian," Waddell says. "They simply had not engineered a solution to be able to control the water spray height, which is where my engineered design comes into play."
A world of help
When Waddell approached a local university about taking the faucet on as a school project in its modeling and simulation department, he found no interest. Restricted by the sort of ultra-tight budget that many entrepreneurs can relate to, he turned to Elance, an Internet-based service that connects people with freelancers.
He found a designer in Thailand who had the CAD modeling and fluid dynamics experience he needed. "We worked to refine the design to meet my aesthetic objectives," Waddell says.
After the design was finished he approached local patent attorneys, but he couldn't afford their fees and he worried how committed they would be to his small project. So he hired an attorney in India, who was highly rated on Elance, and had him do the patent work. That resulted in the certificate he so proudly showed off at the Get Started event.
"That is another testament to the power of the Internet to help entrepreneurs get their projects off the ground," Kraft said. "There are resources around the world, so you don't have to focus just on what's available locally."
After getting his patent, Waddell quizzed a builder about using the faucet in high-end homes and hotels. The builder was so impressed by the faucet he asked to invest. To arrive at the right terms, Waddell turned once again to the Internet, finding an MIT graduate who handles patent valuations.
The prize money from the Get Started competition will allow Waddell to start production of his prototype. Several of the Get Started judges have offered to provide advice going forward, and several audience members also expressed interest in buying the faucet when it rolls out.
In fact, the only person who's been skeptical so far is Waddell's father-in-law. "He told me the idea would never work, that people don’t need it," Waddell says. "I realized that’s because he doesn’t have to brush his teeth like most of us; as he says, he can simply take them out and throw them in a glass of water."
Waddell and his father-in-law now have a $1,000 bet on whether he will sell any of his faucets. "All entrepreneurs face naysayers when they try to bring something new and novel to market," Waddell says. "That just makes me work that much harder to prove I’m right." And with that he offers, quite appropriately, a very big smile.