A couple weeks ago, just hours after giving a lecture about injury prevention, local fitness trainer Kappel LeRoy Clarke saw the footage: Professional basketball player Brandon Jennings had suffered an excruciatingly painful Achilles’ tendon injury on a routine play with minimal contact, placing undue burden on his heel as he stepped backward on defense.

It only strengthened Clarke’s conviction that his idea for an exercise product could have immense value.

Clarke believed his so-called Stumps, a series of tiered platforms meant to enhance the muscles required for base support in sports and daily activities, could transform performance training and reduce career-altering injuries like the one sustained by Jennings.

But the concept didn’t carry much weight as a figment of his imagination, and Clarke was determined to bridge the gap between idea and reality.

It’s how he came across T2 Design, a local firm specializing in invention design and prototyping. And after meeting with Paul Berman, who runs the 7th Street company, Clarke decided to move forward in the arduous process of putting his product on the market.

“Not only are they in Santa Monica, but they’re within walking distance of where I live,” Clarke said. “I took it as a sign that it was meant to be. I found (Berman) to be very thoughtful, detail-oriented and eccentric like me. Most creative people, they see things that other people don’t see. The chemistry was noticeable immediately.”

***

When Berman started in the business, inventing wasn’t the popular phenomenon that it is today. In fact, he was advertising his company’s services at trade shows and in telephone directories.

But the rise of the Internet, the growth of crowdfunding and changes in global manufacturing have democratized the inventing field.

T2 Design’s work with Clarke reflects a trend in the industry as more and more individual inventors eschew the pursuit of traditional licensing agreements, instead using Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns to start businesses, reach target audiences and harness more control of profits.

Since the economic recession, several TV shows have also fueled public interest in the invention process.
Berman was personally involved in the launch of the Drop Stop, an invention for cars that keeps cellphones and other personal items from falling through the narrow gap between the driver’s seat and the center console. After working with T2 Design, the inventors earned a deal through “Shark Tank” that put their product in hundreds of retail stores across the country.

“When China opened up and began to do business with small start-up companies, it allowed people to tool up and get into production at a much lower cost,” Berman said. “Now, one person with a niche product can put that product on the Internet and people can buy it all over the country, all over the world. Something that wouldn’t survive in retail stores can easily survive on the Internet.”

Berman, who studied mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan, has more than a quarter-century of engineering and mechanical design experience, including about 15 years specializing in consumer product design.

Berman previously worked on the computer-aided design of the B-2 stealth bomber and other aircraft and space vehicles. He found his way into the world of invention as he developed a few products of his own, including a sipper cup for babies and a sponge rack.

Through T2 Design, he assists inventors by evaluating products, pursuing patents and constructing prototypes. He has developed more than 125 inventions.

Even so, Berman said he doesn’t always know whether a potential client’s invention is going to catch on with the general public.

“You can’t really tell,” he said. “You can get a hunch one way or the other … but there’s still a large element of unknown.”

T2 Design tries to improve success rates with initial evaluations, professional patent searches and consultations, and many people back out well before the modeling and prototyping stages.

The company, which fields calls from Santa Monica to Saudi Arabia and South America, typically develops just 15 or 20 products out of the roughly 250 or 300 it sees each year, Berman said.

“That ‘wow’ factor definitely helps move things along because it brings in investor money and brings in orders,” he said. “But even when everything looks great, you still don’t know your product will be successful.”

***

At least in some ways, Clarke isn’t the average T2 Design client. The New York transplant studied civil engineering before switching to a career in sports fitness, and some of the design concepts he once learned were reflected in the rough schematics and renderings he showed Berman.

“It had been years since I lifted up a T-square,” Clarke said, “but some habits don’t go away. Some people have (ideas) scratched on napkins. I was able to create sketches of what I needed.”

What he needed was a durable piece of equipment that could withstand up to 1,000 pounds of pressure while facilitating agility and strength exercises that rely on the toes and the balls of the feet.

But for Clarke, a father of two girls, just developing a prototype was going to require substantial help from investors. It was a variable that proved to be a major obstacle, leading him to turn to Indiegogo.

Because he couldn’t reveal his design on the crowdfunding site – he didn’t want to share the details of his idea with potential competitors before securing a patent – he raised money through a video in which he tossed a 106-pound weight on the 2.7-mile stretch of beach from Venice to the Santa Monica Pier. The feat took him 5 hours 37 minutes.

Soon, Clarke will start another Indiegogo campaign to amass funds for production. He envisions the Stumps to be used not only by elite-level athletes but also by senior citizens who want to remain active and children who need entertaining ways to overcome obesity.

“It’s OK to have a dream, but you’ve got to be willing to make sacrifices,” Clarke said. “I had to figure out a way to get it done.”

Above: Paul Berman, shown with clients’ products in his Santa Monica office, helps bring inventions to life through T2 Design. (photo by Jeffrey I. Goodman)

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.