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Jill S. Brown Headshot

As Seen On TV: How to Make the Next Big Thing

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I think that old adage about the American dream being a house with a white picket fence is pretty stale. If you ask me, I think the new American dream is coming up with a great idea and making it a profitable success... then the house, the fence and if you're a humanitarian, even a 501c3 may follow. Inventors are a special breed of person obsessed with solving problems and believing they can create the next big thing every person or household will need, want and use. The goal of most every inventor is to land a licensing deal and obtain manufacturing capital to turn their gizmo, gadget or concept into an overnight sensation. Products like Oxi-Clean, Sham Wow, Magic Jack, the Magic Bullet and the Snuggie have made a lucky few many millions of dollars. Who knew an airline blanket with sleeves would become all the rage amongst college kids or a mini blender-food processor would become the hottest selling small home appliance? Well, someone had the prescience to know this and put the money up to market these products.

This past week in San Diego a couple of dozen inventors were hoping to get discovered by the people who make the next big things happen. They were exhibiting their inventions in the Inventors Pavillion at Response Expo, which is one of the main conventions geared toward the Direct Response industry. What's direct response? Basically any ad that asks you to "call now" or visit a website for more information. Infomercials fall into the category of direct response, and it's an industry that can take you from rags to riches.

John Yarrington, publisher of Response Magazine, says, "if you're an inventor with a great idea sitting around in Iowa, how are you going to get your invention in front of the best marketers in the world?" You come to a convention like this where you can meet the players from the companies who made products like Topsy Turvy (the upside down tomato planter), PedEgg, PediPaws, SpaceBag, and LifeLock household names.

Some of these inventors have been in the game for years, but most were new to the pitching game. All of these inventors have one thing in common. They are all looking for licensing deals and help with manufacturing. Here are a few of the items that might catch your attention some night when you're flipping channels at two in the morning.

The VertaCore, by veteran inventor Eliot James Geeting (EJG Product Development) has already licensed around 20 different products, and this was far from his first rodeo. This time around he was showing off his three latest inventions, one of which is a new fitness device that trains your core standing up rather than lying down. The problem Eliot says he was trying to solve was how to get a good core workout without lying down on the floor.

Cathi Reyes, a stay at home mom who likes to stay fit, came up with the Aqua Bag, an insulated bottle holder, wallet and purse all in one cute little bag you can sling over your shoulder.

A semiconductor engineer named Chris Anatasi is hoping his Quick Kut will be the next tool no household can do without. He created it for cutting open those frustrating factory sealed plastic encasings that your scissors are no match for. Did anyone see that Larry David scene against plastic packaging on Curb Your Enthusiasm? It could have been the commercial for this product.

Here's a product that's a real head-scratcher. Need a better memory and a clean head of hair at the same time? Be on the lookout for "Brain Wash" shampoo and conditioner containing ginkgo biloba. The sales person I spoke to claims this product is able to get the memory-improving herb right into your blood stream while making your hair smell like grapefruit and pina colada! The same company, Evergreen Research was also hocking their Appetite Control Button (an aromatherapy button you wear that supposedly makes you less hungry) and an insect repelling bracelet.

Some inventors have spent a lifetime working on one pet project. Perhaps the cutest, crowd-pleasing invention was Elisa Nardulli's "Lace Replace." It's a shoelace replacement system that puts cute little novelty buttons in the eyelets and has a zipper in between so there's no more lacing up your shoes - you simply zip them up. She came up with idea 18 years ago when trying to teach her daughter how to lace her shoes. Also works for your grandma with arthritis! She doesn't have a website but you can inquire at LaceReplace@yahoo.com.

But you don't need to spend decades on an idea. The Gas Mileage Doubler created by Paul Dieges, a civil engineer, supposedly came up with his concept 6 weeks before the show. It's supposed to be like a small generator on wheels that you tow behind your car, only you're not really towing it...rather it's pushing your car. Just plug it in overnight and, they say, voila! You're just paying one cent per mile according to the Dr. Tom Swift, a history professor and wannabe capitalist. How much would you pay for a product like this? They say it'll be offered for $39.97, but I think they'd better leave the numbers to direct response capitalists who figure out price points for a living.

Green inventions are gold. The "Instant Organic Garden" wasn't quite ready for prime time (no website or official name yet), but I suspect an easy to use organic garden planting product could be a hit. For more info you can contact jmellesmoen@gmail.com.

Also in the green camp was an invention to keep your kitchen clear of recycling clutter. A Canadian realtor came up with a prototype for a mini trash compactor called the Duzall.

Finally, one was right up my alley. How would you like a clip bag that yells at you when you're about to dive into a bag of potato chips? A cross between a hallmark greeting card and a bag clip, the Record O Clip lets you record messages to yourself like, "step away from the Cheetos you lard ass and go the gym." If only it came with a private trainer that actually threw you in the car and took you to the gym too. Now that would be a valuable feature for one low price of $9.99!