By GREGORY ZELLER //
Vacuuming with those canister-shaped wet/dry vacuum cleaners can lead to a real dust up.
That, at least, is the problem encountered by East Setauket father/son inventing duo Christopher and Benjamin Conard, who found the canisters do as much messing as cleaning, doubling the required cleaning time.
The culprit: the canisters’ exhaust port, an almost-always circular vent usually located on the unit’s rear side. The powerful machines kick up some serious backdrafts, often sending dust and dirt flying. That requires multiple passes to actually clean a room, while creating a breathing hazard for the unlucky user.
To mitigate their exasperation, Christopher, a laser technician at Stony Brook Medicine, and Benjamin, a senior studying business and German at SUNY Geneseo, spent years developing the Conard External Vortex Turbulence Attenuator – CEVTA for short – and officially launched their LLC of the same name a year ago.
Frustrated by the dust storm swirling every time he fired up his wet-dry vac, Christopher actually mocked up a home-use prototype that was fairly effective in mitigating the exhaust turbulence. When friends expressed real enthusiasm about the rudimentary device, Christopher and Benjamin got serious.
Their exhaustive effort resulted in a more refined version that fits directly over the exhaust port and hugs the canister snuggly, so unlike other clunky anti-exhaust attachments it “doesn’t affect the footprint,” Benjamin noted.
The inventors applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in August 2013, and with that patent still pending, Benjamin – the firm’s vice president – is hesitant to reveal precisely how the attachment works.
We managed to get this much: The attenuator “uses a unique system of baffles to help redistribute the exhaust and create a vortex,” Benjamin noted, thereby “minimizing the turbulence with virtually no effect on the vacuum power.”
Their unwillingness to spill the technical beans didn’t stop the inventors from taking the stage at Stony Brook University’s recent Wolfie Night, a Shark Tank-like event at which students and faculty pitched their innovative product or service to a panel of esteemed judges. While the event didn’t offer prizes, the judges – including Andrew Hazen, Derek Peterson and Paul Trapani – did offer critiques of the seven pitches and engage in robust post-pitch Q&As.
“They asked tough questions and even provided some connections,” noted Benjamin, who handled the CEVTA pitch while his dad, the LLC’s president, demonstrated the device. “Based on that, a few people have reached out to us about attending events in the future, and another wanted to try our product.”
Such experiences will pay dividends as the startup begins an earnest search for investors. That should happen over the first half of 2016, around the time Benjamin wraps up his undergraduate studies. The father and son already have a rough fundraising goal – about $100,000, split equally between additional self-investment, a family-and-friends round and some combination of angel investments.
They’ve even given some early thought as to where that money might go.
“We would be spending about $40,000 on the molding equipment to actually manufacture the product, while $35,000 or so would be for starting inventory,” Benjamin said. “Also about $9,000 for prototype design and engineering. The rest would be for legal, accounting, telecommunications, advertising and other miscellaneous expenses.”
But none of that will happen until the Patent and Trademark Office – “backlogged a bit,” according to Benjamin – issues that long-awaited patent. Because of that uncertainty, the inventors can’t say exactly when they might go hard after venture capital or when they might have a commercial product ready to roll; Benjamin’s best hope is six months, but his best guess is closer to 12.
“Once we get our patent, we can reach out to wet/dry vacuum companies and see how they feel about the product and see if they want to deal with us,” he said. “Maybe they’ll be interested in purchasing the patent, or perhaps we can license it. There are a lot of different avenues we can take.”
While the timetable is uncertain, the entrepreneurs are already fairly confident about CEVTA’s market potential.
“This product will eliminate the requirement that you clean a room more than once by keeping the dust on the ground where it belongs,” Benjamin said. “The ability to start at one end of the room and go to the other without having to do it again or wipe it down afterwards will be a big sell.
“Anybody who owns a wet/dry vacuum would benefit from this,” he added. “Most of those people are contractors, carpenters and painters, but our family is none of those and we have one, and our neighbors own one also. It’s easy to see the value in this product.”
What’s It? Anti-dust vortex device for wet-dry vacuum cleaners
Brought To You By: Father-son duo Christopher and Benjamin Conard
All In: $8,000, self-invested, for patent application, LLC formation and related costs
Status: Waiting on the USPTO