Saturday, November 19, 2005

From the kitchen sink:
A great tale of innovation.

I guarantee you will remember the first time you see colored bubbles.

Bubbles that kids blow, except well, blown into spectacular colors. Technicolor bubbles. A zillion pixels per inch colored bubbles. Hot pink bubbles. Neon green bubbles. Yellow and orange bubbles. And when they pop, the color and the magic disappear until you do it again. And again. And again.

Colored bubbles will be on the market early next year. And you doubted that the world is getting better...

My report from the world of invention and innovation this week leaves me slack jawed and thunderstruck with admiration.

I'd never thought of a SustainableWork Hall of Fame, but I've decided to invent one just for Tim Kehoe. I'm making Tim the first endowed chair of kitchen sink innovation. Emeritus Professor.

I bring you an enterprise story that I hope will be long told and widely celebrated.

The December '05 issue of Popular Science has a wonderful, compelling story that is important for all of us.

"Tim Kehoe has stained the whites of his eyes deep blue. He's also stained his face, his car, several bathtubs and a few dozen children. He's had to evacuate his family because he filled the house with noxious fumes. He's ruined every kitchen he's ever had. Kehoe, a 35-year-old toy inventor from St. Paul, Minnesota, has done all this in an effort to make real an idea he had more than 10 years ago, one he's been told repeatedly cannot be realized: a colored bubble."

Well, Tim did it. The first cool result is that you'll soon be able to blow brightly colored bubbles. The more important lesson from the story is that persistence, hard work, and a respect for capturing details is critical. The you-better-get-this part of the story is that we all should celebrate and support great science and engineering.

First the upside stuff. Popular Science senior associate editor Mike Haney writes, "According to one industry estimate, retailers sell around 200 million bottles annually—perhaps more than any other toy."

"If an inventor could somehow add color, though, suddenly adults might have reason to start blowing again. Picture bubbles in NFL team colors, or bubbles that match charity ribbons. The potential market would grow to include every man, woman and child. So why don't they exist?"

This is a big commercial deal. Schools, fundraising, unlimited commercial PR potential. Close your eyes and imagine bubbles to match the wedding colors. Need I say more? 200 million units of anything is a monster number. Tim and friends have the potential to lay siege to that entire number and probably sell more than that by themselves, directly and through licensing.

Meet Mr. Tim Kehoe from St. Paul, Minnesota. 10 years ago Tim conjured up colored bubbles out of thin air. Magic idea, if only you could make it work.

Tim Kehoe, wife and family have lived the life of citizen innovators ever since. Cool stuff. Scary stuff. Tedious stuff. Their stuff.

Experiments went on for years. Great stories of innovation all-nighters. Hope led to painful rejections. Products rolled out before their time rolled straight into disaster. Job life, family life, and enterprise life all swirled about like Toto in the Kansas wind for over a decade.

Tim Kehoe chased his idea in and out of self employment for over a decade. If you think there's a direct line to enterprise success like you see on TV, meet Mr. Kehoe, the real deal. His story is a truthful representation of what much of innovation and enterprise success looks like. It's a story that should be richly celebrated by all of us.

Tim's enterprise funding has gone from home-made to angel-based, and it's making his dream work. Earlier outside funding might have helped, but it also could have screwed up the end result. I think the most important part about outside funding is not about how you get the money, but when. Tim's timing here looks dead on.

Another critical part of outside funding is what the entrepreneur brings to the money. Tim brought years of struggle and determination to the table. He brought his fire which couldn't be quenched by the repeated cold showers of start up roadblocks. Importantly, Tim brought years of knowledge of what didn't work. Those failures weren't defeats. Tim used them as refinements to a great story. He kept putting one foot in front of another, always improving the idea. Whatever it took.

Passion is a biz buzz word now. Unfortunately, passion typically gets translated as smiling people talking loudly.

But Tim's case is the real thing. Passion for the idea. Passion for the story.

With that in mind, Tim brought in money and brains.

Fortunately, not just any brains. Tim connected with the wonderfully determined brain of Mr. Ram Sabnis.

Great timing for all involved. Mr. Sabnis is a PhD dye chemist with dozens of patents.

His scientific specialty, among the most specialized in the world, led him to develop an entirely new dye chemistry. Something from nothing stuff, bless him. "Nobody has made this chemistry before," Sabnis says. "All these molecules - we will make 200 or 300 to cover the spectrum — they don't exist. We have synthesized a whole new class of dyes", says Mr. Sabnis.

Ram Sabnis’ story of 60 to 100 experiments per weeks for many months is well told in this article. Great science with a wonderfully colorful, magical ending.

Will Tim and Ram ride this story straight into sure-fire success? God I hope so.

What you need to remember friend, is that it started at a kitchen sink. It's taken longer than anyone involved expected, I'd bet. I'd also bet that, looking back, they wouldn't trade any of it.

Neither would you.

In the future, whenever you see a colored bubble float by (and you WILL see a lot of them float by) remember the story of Ram Sabnis and Kitchen Sink Emeritus Professor Tim Kehoe, our first SustainableWork Hall of Fame inductee.

A really wonderful enterprise story.

Now, friend, go find your own kitchen sink.

Popular Science article by Mike Haney

Photo for this post borrowed from Popular Science Magazine article.

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