Our InvENtor Spotlight for July is on James Sweed! James has been a member of the Edison Nation community since 2013 and is an active Insider!
Where is your home town?
I’ve lived in Houston all my life, deep in the heart of Texas. Although, we did move around the city maybe half a dozen times or so when I was a child.
Where do you currently reside?
I currently reside within a stone’s throw of the world famous Houston Astro Dome.
What is your professional background?
I’ve worked many jobs over the years, but presently I work for a major wine and liquor distributor. You really get the premise of supply and demand in this type of business especially around major holidays.
How did you initially hear about Edison Nation?
I believe it came about through the television show “Everyday Edisons.” I watched it every chance I got, of course, this was before “Shark Tank.” There weren’t very many shows profiling inventors marketing their inventions from submission to store shelves. If you had dreams of licensing an invention you watched that show.
Have you ever collaborated with another inventor(s) on a project? If so, how was that experience for you?
Looking for help and answers to the many questions I had relating to my foray into inventing and licensing, I was lucky to come across N.A.I.E. (Network of American Inventors and Entrepreneurs) in the mid-1990s.
It was an inventors association located about a 30-minute drive from where I lived.
It was founded by the late Wessie Cramer. She wasn’t an inventor herself but heard of the many horror stories of inventors being taking advantage of by exploitative inventor marketing firms. Early on, I too was taken advantage of by one of these shyster organizations.
She wanted to do something about it by creating the association to have a place for local inventors to come and learn from one another. She was such a giving person who allowed weekly meetings at her home for us like-minded inventors to gather.
With her help I got my first patent issued. N.A.I.E. carried on for a little while after she left us but sadly it eventually disbanded. Houston isn’t without an inventor association group, though. I currently attend H.I.A. meetings (Houston Inventor’s association) and there are lots of great people there also.
What are some general industry trends you have noticed recently?
What I can’t help but notice is the ‘zombie’ cell phone users who will totally tune out of what’s going on around them to the point of putting themselves or others in harm’s way. Good or bad this is an industry that will only grow bigger and stronger as more and more bells and whistles are added to these devices.
Do you find that invention ideas come to you or do you have to go after them?
Ideas, for the most part, tend to come to me. But what I might do to get things percolating is think about a problem or some subject such as toys and just relax. I go about by life and let my subconscious do the work to come up with solutions or new product ideas. The good ones will manifest themselves from the subconscious to the conscious.
What advice would you tell others embarking on their own inventing journey?
For me, my inventing journey can be best describe by the lyrics from the song, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” by the Hollies…
The road is long with many a winding turn.
That leads us to who knows where who knows where.
But I’m strong’…
Everybody’s journey is going to be different because we are different and none of us think or act exactly alike.
So my advice to other inventors is…
If you believe in what you are doing, keeping doing it until you break through.
For some, it may happen their first time out (don’t you just hate that!) and for others it may take years. I’ve been at this for decades and still get just as thrilled about the possibility of acquiring a licensing deal as when I put my first idea to paper.
What inspired you to start inventing?
It’s something that comes from inside. Not that you think of yourself as an inventor, but just someone who sees a different way of achieving something. Someone may say, you should do it this way, but you say, what if I did it this other way instead.
When I was a child, unlike many of today’s children, I didn’t get toys throughout the year.
You got a few things doing Christmas and that was it. If it got broken or stolen you were on your own ’til Christmas came around again. So to entertain myself I would create my own playthings by applying my imagination and creativity. Paper airplanes, toy parachutes, handmade bow and arrows, and I even designed my own board games.
When did you come up with your first great idea?
The first idea that I put an effort into trying to license had to do with breakfast. I would eat all brands of breakfast cereals at all times of the day when I was younger. I’m talking about Corn Flakes, Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs, etc.
I loved to have my milk ice-cold, so much so that I would drop ice cubes in the bowl. I thought of a way to keep my cereal cold without diluting my milk with ice water. I put idea to paper and started contacting marketing companies. I was like the fly that flew into the spider’s web. This invention submission company I submitted my invention to attempted to suck me dry of my money but not until I was able to break away.
You have been an EN member since 2013, can you provide us with some details around your experiences and journey to date?
In 1997, I entered a champagne bottle opener invention of mine in the Hammacher Schlemmer search for the Invention of 1997. My simple patented bottle opener was entered among inventions from across the country and placed 16th in the finals. At the time of the contest I had already begun self-marketing the invention and was able to market test it in several local liquor stores.
I believed if I could show a licensee that people were willing to buy it then it should make it easier to convince one of them to take it on. I got so wrapped up in producing and selling the thing that my licensing efforts came to a halt. My initial market testing and customer feedback did persuade me to change the design and aesthetics of the product to be more appealing visually.
Becoming a finalist in the Hammacher Schlemmer invention search got me written up in newspapers and magazines including Inventors Digest which did an article on me and N.A.I.E.. I was even featured on the cover page of the Houston Business Journal.
I’ve been pitching ideas to Edison Nation for several years now and overall it has been very satisfying, even when the dreaded red x comes up. With Edison Nation everything is out in the open. You see the results of their efforts to get licensing deals for inventors. There’s no saying one thing to get you in and saying another thing later to get more money out of you. I feel it’s one of the truly honest invention marketing establishments out there.
What do you consider your biggest failure and what did you learn from it?
I attended college right after graduating high school. I started but I didn’t finish. I let my personal troubles and other distractions of life pull me away. I very much envy those people who find a way to achieve their goal or complete a difficult task even while toiling under less than ideal situations.
Had I got it done I would have been the first in my family to graduate college. I wanted to be an example for others to follow. I may have dropped the baton but there’s always someone there to pick it up. My first cousin graduated this year with her master’s degree in psychiatry!
What are some other fun facts about yourself that you’d like to share with the EN community?
I believe art and invention go hand in hand. I always had interest in art. I would get pencil and paper and draw for hours at a time growing up. At 10-years-old, I hounded my dad to buy this rinky-dink cartooning course I saw an ad for in my comic book. He finally gave in and this began my cartooning adventure.
Believe it or not, I sold a cartoon to the Houston Post newspaper a short time after getting it in the mail. In high school I ran a comic strip in the school newspaper.
These days I mostly apply my art talent to sketching out my invention ideas.
A local morning TV talk show invited members of our H.I.A. group on the show to talk about and demonstrate our inventions, and I got to demo my bottle opener live on television. That was both exciting and scary. I thought about all the things that could go wrong in while on TV and in front of a live audience.
I’m relieved to say everything went off without a hitch and the audience loved it.
We’d like to thank James for sharing his experiences with us and have our fingers crossed for that G8!