Our November InvENtor Spotlight features Derrick James! Derrick has been a member of the Edison Nation community since 2009 and is an active Insider!
Where is your home town?
I was born in Chicago, but I moved to Beloit, Wisconsin, when I around 8 or so. I do still have some fond memories of my early years in Chicago.
Where do you currently reside?
What is your professional background?
I am a mechanical engineer. I’ve worked for three different companies on a regular full-time employee basis. My longest stint was eleven years with Greenlee Textron. I also had a short stint as a Six Sigma quality consultant, and a two year run trying to operate my own business called DLJ Innovations LLC, which was ultimately not sustainable. I have been engaged in a contract position as an mechanical engineer for the last two years.
How did you initially hear about Edison Nation?
In the summer of 2009, I was researching inventor-friendly companies, when I came across a product search from Bed Bath & Beyond called “Students of Invention”. I still have the original landing page saved on my computer (see below). This page led me to this link: https://www.edisonnation.com/live_product_searches/BBB202 and the rest as they say is history.
Have you ever collaborated with another inventor(s) on a project? If so, how was that experience for you?
I collaborated on a project once with Joseph Jackson, another Edison Nation inventor. We entered a submission into the Pet360 search. We made it past the difficult G4 stage, but ultimately succumbed to an R5. It was an exciting and interesting experience, and I have no regrets about the short-term partnership. However, at the end of the day, I really enjoy inventing more as a solo act.
What are some general industry trends you have noticed recently?
In general, products are becoming smarter and more connected. However, there is still room for simple innovations. I am still amazed that after eight years, one product that seems to have stood the test of time is the Snuggie. I can’t believe that you can still buy one of those. That’s the kind of enduring product success that I want.
Do you find that invention ideas come to you or do you have to go after them?
There are times when invention ideas just come to me, but most the time, I have to go after them. This usually happens as a result of a sponsored search. There are some sponsored searches that have led me to invent in areas that I would never have considered otherwise. One such example is the recent sponsored search by Brand Castle for Gingerbread houses. Gingerbread house innovation was not even close to being on my radar screen until that innovation search came about.
What advice would you tell newcomers to the innovation scene?
My first piece of advice would be to read and learn as much as you can about the invention process, then be patient, then be patient some more, and finally, read and learn some more about the invention process and then be patient some more.
I have observed, time and time again, how inventors take to the forums to try to coax the process along, asking for updates at every turn. I’ve heard people exclaim how they are not a “patient person”. If this is true of you, then my advice would be either to take steps to improve your patience, or perhaps find another past-time. As the old adage goes, inventing is a marathon, not a sprint.
I have also seen inventors take to the internet to bash EN because they were personally unable to find success with EN. This is very unfortunate, because in my opinion, EN is an inventor’s best friend. EN affords us the opportunity to have our product ideas go through a thorough vetting process, and potentially be professionally presented to Fortune 500 companies all for a tidy sum of $25 (or $20 as an Insider).
Please tell me where else this is possible…wait for it…the answer is…nowhere (at least not that I have found).
What inspired you to start inventing?
Like most children, I enjoyed play-time, and I clearly remember making a toy robot out of a bunch of odds and ends found in one of my friend’s dad’s tool box. I remember feeling a sense of accomplishment, having created something out of a bunch of junk.
You might say that as an engineer, I have been inventing for my employer since I began my professional career in 1996. However, in 2006 I was sent to a recruiting conference in Pittsburgh by my then employer (see picture of me with Tony the Tiger from that 2006 conference).
After our duties at the conference were fulfilled, we were invited to attend any of the workshops that interested us. I decided to attend a workshop on entrepreneurship. From that time forward, I began to consider how I could invent products for myself instead of my employer. This led me to start my own business in 2008, and to launch out in 2009 to try to operate it full time. Although the business venture only lasted 2 years, the passion for inventing has remained as strong as ever.
When did you come up with your first great idea?
My first really great idea (in my estimation) came in 2013, but received an R4 with EN. I haven’t actually reduced it to practice yet, but it seems like it should work. This was one of those few ideas that just came to me. I remember driving down the road, and “BAM”, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I agreed with EN’s decision to not move forward with it, because it is certainly not a consumer product that you can buy on store shelves. However, if Tesla Motors or one of the other major players in the auto-industry ever comes to EN looking for innovative ideas, I will be resubmitting it.
You have been an EN member since 2009, can you provide us with some details around your experiences and journey to date?
I would describe my experience and journey since becoming an EN member as a work in progress with many twists and turns and highs and lows. I’ve experienced the thrill of making it to the presentation on several occasions but have yet to experience the thrill of a G8. I’ve literally practiced my reaction to seeing a G8 on my dashboard so many times that I have it down pat now. All I have to do now is actually get a G8. What keeps me going is seeing the success of others while I wait for my time to come.
I believe we need to genuinely celebrate the success of others even while our own success eludes us.
One of my favorite quotes is from Steve Brown who said “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly, until you learn to do it well” (if you Google it, Zig Ziglar is also credited with having said this, but I first saw it on a desk calendar circa 1997 and it was credited to Steve Brown).
Also, one of my favorite TV commercials is that of Michael Jordan’s when he states that “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life-and that is why I succeed.”
I have yet to find success with EN, but I believe without reservation that EN is worth doing. The opportunities are incredible. Even if I never achieve the lofty G8 status, it is still worth it to keep trying, because I just love inventing.
What are some other fun facts about yourself that you’d like to share with the EN community?
As is evident by my avatar, I am a life-long fan of the Philadelphia 76ers (it’s a professional basketball team in the NBA for those unaware) and have been since the early 1980’s. I have endured the last three seasons with patience, which bottomed out (hopefully) last year with having to see them only win 10 games and lose 72. They haven’t won a championship since 1983. However, that is nothing compared to the Chicago Cubs going 108 YEARS between World Series Championships. I am not even a Cubs fan, but I was absolutely thrilled to see them finally win it all. I just hope I don’t have to wait 108 years to get my first G8.
Another fun fact is that I don’t plan to ever retire — at least not entirely. I do plan to eventually retire from having a regular job, but I plan to be an inventor until my dying day or until the Rapture occurs whichever comes first.
You never get too old to invent, so keep at it folks.
We thank Derrick for sharing some of his journey with us and for being a wonderful member of the EN community! Fear not, that G8 is around the corner!