10/14/2014 11:31 am ET Updated Dec 14, 2014

How To Be A Boomer (Re) Inventor

There are usually two inspirations for great inventions: 1) The Epiphany, where a brilliant idea appears seemingly out of nowhere in our consciousness (and if we're smart, we'll write it down and figure out a way to make it happen), or 2) The Inspiration, where we meet or listen to someone, or witness an event that fires us up sufficiently that we just can't get the idea out of our minds.

Glenn Cox was a career officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) when a No. 2 (Inspiration) hit him. The situation was unpleasant and disturbing. In 1994, Cox responded to a highway accident involving an overturned tanker truck that was leaking diesel fuel onto the roadway. It took two hours for a response team to show up and finally plug the leak using an improvised mixture of a putty-like sealer, plywood and a shovel wedged in to keep the stopper in place. Cox was frustrated by the inefficiency of the repair -- from the lack of training and resources supplied to him and his fellow officers, to the ineffectiveness of the eventual solution. The incident stuck in his mind for years, but it wasn't until he had left the RCMP that he finally came up with a solution, which led to an invention, which led to Cox's own reinvention.

In 2007, Cox was working as a risk manager for an international insurance company, and attended a seminar on hazardous site spill remediation. From the presentation, he realized that the applicable technology had not improved in the intervening 13 years since the tanker accident. To his surprise, the industry was still using wooden plugs and rubber bungs on threaded rods -- hardly a "state of the art" solution. Perhaps even more disturbing was the industry focus on spill containment after the fact as opposed to sealing spills at the source. Now living in his home town of Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island, he talked all this over with a friend, the local fire chief, who explained that 95% of all ruptures are 2" or smaller, so any effective device would need to be able to fit inside very small openings in order to contain the leak. Cox thought he had a solution. Working with simple items he bought at a local hardware store -- a wire hanger, a squishy ball, zip ties, and duct tape -- Cox fashioned a prototype of his invention and tested it on a plastic coffee can: a malleable plug that could be instantly inserted into a narrow leak and expand to completely seal it.

Encouraged by this simple success, Cox embarked on a rigorous testing and design process, first optimizing the design and materials, and then conducting a series of basic tests based on real-world situations. After these were completed satisfactorily, Cox began to outsource the final design and manufacturing elements to arrive at a product that could withstand the full complement of potential emergency situations, including the capacity to resist powerful solvents and inflammable materials.

In 2009, Cox launched Zengo, Inc. as the manufacturing and marketing entity to bring his new RuptureSEAL ("Saving the Environment And Lives") product line to market, enlisting advisory support from the Nova Scotia-based Entrepreneur's Forum, a non-profit dedicated to supporting budding business owners. Working with advisors helped Cox focus on his target markets: commercial trucking, first responders, industrial plants, recreational boating and commercial shipping. As he states on the Forum's website, "My Advisors had phenomenal expertise, and they were really keen to see my product succeed."

In 2011, Cox applied for a patent on his technology, which was granted in 2013. Today, Zengo is producing three separate sizes of RuptureSEALs across both Industrial and Marine applications to accommodate most any potential spill contingencies.

Needless to say, Cox is bullish about his experience, and his thoughts stand as an encouragement to others with viable invention ideas who might be hesitating to develop them: "Without the ability to commercialize an innovation," he says, "it remains just an idea."

Glenn Cox's reinvention was driven by his conscience and his imagination -- not a bad combination, particularly for those of us who have lived long enough to fantasize about righting wrongs, or building better mousetraps. And just because we've been around a bit longer than most people, we may just have the ability to succeed.

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