Be it a funnel to help women urinate standing up, a revolutionary paper towel or a suit used to enhance the chances of human survival in a disaster, the Clallam County Economic Development Council is helping products originating in the minds of North Olympic Peninsula residents go to market.
The EDC, which is the facilitator of the area's state recognized Innovation Partnership Zone, has been coordinating local innovators and inventors with the resources they need to make their idea or product a reality in a process called economic gardening.
So far, participants have been pleased with the results. Just ask Lynn Langford, 72, of Port Angeles, who has been working to perfect her invention for nine years.
Her product is a small, paper, foldable funnel that helps women urinate standing up.
"The women I'd share it with immediately got it, but the corporate marketing types I was able to talk to just didn't seem to see the value," Langford said.
"But after talking about the product to many women across the country and going through this process with the EDC, my husband and I are beginning to see more and more opportunities for making this happen and making this be a successful product."
Langford participated in the economic development agency's first "beta test" of the program, which operates through the partnership zone. She was one of 17 entrepreneurs the agency led through a process designed to create new business opportunities and connections.
All 17 have come back to the EDC asking for more and giving updates, something executive director Linda Rotmark said she is excited about.
The EDC has put aside its smokestack chasing days to concentrate on "economic gardening," or bringing local ideas to market, thereby bolstering the local economy.
Rotmark said each idea or product is put through a sophisticated computer model that evaluates it on its viability while providing ways to improve on the idea or product.
"The program is called Eureka! Winning Ways," Rotmark said, indicating the program has an 88-percent success rate for identifying viable business ideas. "Plus we put the participants into a network of business mentors to support their ideas through investment, legal and marketing connections."
Langford scored a 66 in the computer model, which was relatively good, Rotmark said, considering the average score is a 29.
Mary Washatka, of Sequim, also went through the process and came away with a solid enough plan for her paper towel innovation to take the product to serious investors in Southern California.
"The EDC process was the catalyst that launched me and my product into a direction that is bringing real investors into the picture," said Washatka, who also is manager of Sleep Country Plus.
Washatka's product is a three-ply paper towel that is perforated so that when torn from the roll, it can become a bib. The middle ply is a leak-proof layer, making the product versatile for many markets, according to its creator.
"It's basically a revolution in the paper towel industry," she said. "The EDC project really helped me organize for my presentation to investors and helped me meet others in the area with a relevant business background."
One of the partners in the project, Washington Manufacturing Services, committed $30,000 toward the development of the economic gardening process.
The testing of the process is relatively complete and the EDC plans to make it available for everyone with a product or innovative idea in the area.
"The results have been beyond anyone's expectations," said John Vicklund, with Washington Manufacturing Services, adding that other counties are catching wind of the idea to farm ideas. "Clallam EDC took the first step in developing this program. Now other areas of the state have the opportunity to nurture and support their local businesses."
Those interested in participating in the EDC's program should visit www.clallam.org or call 457-7793.
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