It started with a kvetch and ended with a licensing offer.
“I hate making bunk-beds!” Shirley Garrett hollered at no one in particular while sprawling across the bottom bunk to tuck a sheet into a far corner. “There’s got to be an easier way!”
She pictured a simple tool that would tuck in the bedsheets for you, something that would help lift the ends of a heavy mattress while slipping the sheet beneath it. It would even work on beds or bunk-beds shoved into the corner of a room, where it was just impossible.
In a few days, Garrett had fashioned a rough prototype out of an empty milk jug. She tried it out on the beds in her house, tucking in the sheets beneath the heavy mattresses. It worked!
Then she Googled “how to create a prototype out of plastic,” and a week later had a literal hot mess on her kitchen table: a blob of melted plastic from a prototype-making kit she got on Amazon. She tried again, re-melting the plastic pellets in the oven to fashion the device that she’d pictured. The result looked like this.
Undeterred, Garrett went upstairs to try out the blobby prototype on the beds. It actually worked. She got a friend to videotape her making the bed with it. Then she emailed the video to Jack Lander, the “Inventor Mentor,” to get advice on development and licensing. Spotting potential, Jack recommended that Garrett start with intellectual-property protection. She was put in touch with Scott Keeley, a patent agent who works with independent inventors and start-ups. Keeley did the research and found the patent-landscape favorable. They filed a provisional patent for what was now called “The Tuck-It.” (The “T,” explained Garrett, replaced the original “F” used in exclamation while trying to make the bunk-beds at her beach house.)
But there was more to do. Garrett didn’t want to wait to see her idea turn into something real. There was too much positive feedback — from friends, the patent agent, the Inventor Mentor — that she couldn’t waste time. So she packed her prototype in a suitcase and booked a flight from Atlanta to Philadelphia, where she would spend a full week intensively researching and developing the Tuck-It. It was a new program run by her patent agent called “Inventor Immersion Week,” and it promised two things by week’s end: a working prototype and a provisional patent. (What she got was unexpected, as we’ll see by the end of the story.)
Garrett arrived on Friday, November 9, unpacked, poured herself a glass of wine, and immediately got to work with Keeley on plans for the next day. A key part of the immersion experience was its location: Garrett would be staying at Keeley’s house and working at NextFab, the fabrication shop/incubator space a few blocks west, where all the prototyping would happen, hands-on. For one week, she would live and breathe the Tuck-It.
The next morning, Garrett was standing at the bandsaw at NextFab, taking the requisite machine-tools safety course.
She also learned how to use a belt-sander and a drill press. She left that evening with her first souvenirs: a handmade cutting board and bottle opener.
With this knowledge, Garrett would now be able to have a hand in fabricating a working prototype. Working with Keeley, who is also an industrial designer, they went through variation after variation of the Tuck-It. At the end of each day, over dinner, she would improve the design with Keeley and his business partner, who was writing Garrett’s second provisional patent. The three of them would test each day’s prototype on every bed in the house.
By Thursday, Garrett had a provisional patent drafted, and a prototype ready for molding. She could relax, go sight-seeing, and enjoy the nearby Passyunk Avenue bars and restaurants.
The Inventor Immersion Week is a new program started by Scott Keeley in which inventors come to Philadelphia to actualize their concepts. Under the tutelage of Scott and the experts at NextFab, they spend an intensive week building and improving their concept. The inventor gets constant guidance from Scott on patenting, prototyping, manufacturing and licensing, and hands-on guidance from the staff at NextFab as they build their prototype on professional fabrication machinery. They might be seeing Philadelphia for the first time, or combining work with fun as they explore the city. They might choose to stay at the home of Keeley and his partner Regina DeAngelo, as Shirley Garrett did, to be close to NextFab, or they might stay at a hotel or another Airbnb spot.
Wherever they stay, inventors have to be committed to an intensive week of hands-on work and brainstorming, morning till night. Their reward is a working prototype, and a filed provisional patent application. They might even have an unexpected success, which is what Shirley Garrett got the Wednesday after returning from her Immersion Week: a legitimate licensing offer.
The next Inventor Immersion Week is planned for January 2019, with a new Immersion Weekend now being offered. Sign up by emailing regina-at-KeeleyDeAngelo.com.