Collaboration, the mother of invention

J-Tray inventor J.J. Valenti: Climbing the ladder, he hopes, to success.

By GREGORY ZELLER // Even Brian Fried was impressed. And he holds more than a dozen patents and trademarks.

Fried, founder of the Inventors & Entrepreneurs Club of Suffolk County, has seen plenty of inventions come along over the years, but the breadth of inventiveness on display at the club’s annual product showcase event on Tuesday – ranging from a voice recorder with law enforcement potential to a fresh take on bathtubs – fascinated even the veteran tinkerer.

“It was really very impressive,” Fried told Innovate LI. “It’s amazing how clever people are.”

The club, founded in 2007 by Fried with an assist from then-County Executive Steve Levy, has never lacked clever people. Marking its eighth anniversary in August, the group meets monthly at Suffolk’s H. Lee Dennison office building in Hauppauge, giving inventors a chance to rub elbows with fellow creators and others in the invention game.

On Tuesday, a large crowd of inventors, patent attorneys, engineers and manufacturers filled the Dennison Building to hear extended discourses on six different products – some designed specifically for professional applications, some high-tech, some with unmistakable commercial appeal.

Among the products showcased was the J Tray, the increasingly popular handyman’s assistant invented by Joseph Valenti, owner of Sayville’s Valenti Contracting Corp. A 20-year-veteran painter and carpenter, the solopreneur has a provisional patent for his invention, a super-lightweight work platform that fits snuggly atop most ladders and is strong enough to support a paint can, several tools and other equipment common in Valenti’s business.

Also in Tuesday’s spotlight: “Wonder Web: How to Transform Your Site Into the Ultimate Selling Machine,” a how-to guide for online retailers by David Lagone of Medford; the S006 Linear LED Driver, an application-specific integrated-circuit device by Ronkonkoma semiconductor specialist iSine that promises to extend LED lamp life by up to 10 years; and a “tile spacer” that provides uniform distance between ceramic tiles and holds them in place during installation, patented by Farmingville inventor Photios Noutsis.

“The tile holder was kind of unique,” Fried noted. “People were asking questions. There was definitely interest.”

One of the most intriguing presentations at the showcase was by Andy Braverman, who talked up the DigiTel Police Reporting System. A “digital dictation system” that works over the phone, the DigiTel provides fast and efficient data input from remote locations; according to Braverman, that creates multiple law-enforcement benefits, primarily by keeping police officers on the streets and leaving the report-typing to stationhouse clerks.

“Look at the average police officer’s salary,” the inventor said. “Do you want someone earning $40 an hour doing that data entry, or a clerical person earning $16 an hour? And do you want that officer sitting in the stationhouse typing, or out on the street policing?”

Law enforcement, however, wasn’t DigiTel’s first career choice.

“We just pivoted into law enforcement in the last couple of months,” noted Braverman, president of Port Jefferson Station IT firm Apptec Corp. “Prior to that, it was medical applications – doctors and clinics. Another key market was lawyers. I recently sold one to the president of a bank.”

While the DigiTel had the audience’s ear, the biggest splash at Tuesday’s showcase might have been the Space Tub, a unique spin on a basic technology that’s barely changed since it was introduced in 1883 by American John Michael Kohler.

Presented by Bruce Ahmes, founder of Hauppauge residential contractor Ahmes Construction, and company owners Ryan Ahmes and Ken Piccininni, the Space Tub aims to reduce bathroom accidents by straightening the curve where the bathtub wall meets the bathtub floor. It’s not a 90-degree angle, but it’s close.

“There are 250,000 accidents that happen every year in the bathroom due to slips and falls,” Bruce said. “We had our tub examined by an IBM engineer, who determined it’s three times safer than the average tub. When you step out of our tub, your leg is at a 5-degree angle, as opposed to about 17 degrees in an old-fashioned tub.”

The patented, nearly perpendicular interior not only reduces slippage, it dramatically increases flat space inside the tub, a boon for shower-takers and bath-takers alike. And it does it in exactly the same footprint as a traditional tub.

“In the traditional design, between the curved walls, there’s a width of about 18 inches of flat center,” Bruce said. “In our tub, there’s 28 inches of flat center. And our tub is exactly the same size – 30 inches wide, 60 inches long and 16 inches tall. This replaces exactly every tub in the world.”

The partners brought their designs to the showcase to help them determine their next move. While several American manufacturers appreciate the concept, Bruce cited an “upsetting the apple cart” mentality that has domestic manufacturers balking at the mass-production price.

Chinese manufacturers have expressed interest, though the trio would prefer not to center production overseas. Deep-pocketed investors could “speed up the process” and keep everything domestic, Bruce noted, but for now the partners are covering their bases by sending prototypes and blueprints to China.

“We’re just about ready to explode,” Bruce said. “Right now, we’re delicately trying to balance everything.”

Finding that balance is the main thrust of the product showcase, where fledgling inventors not only pitch their wares but network with engineers, IP experts and other key players in the creative realm.

“It’s about collaboration,” Fried said. “In the J Tray presentation, there was a construction guy there and a handyman there and they were saying, ‘You know what? You’re focused on painting, but I can use that for my screws and hammers or whatever. You can open up your market and find so much more opportunity if you expand beyond painting.’

“It’s one thing to pitch ideas,” he added. “But when you get everybody together at different stages of the invention process, this becomes a great way to get feedback and get them thinking about new ways to get those ideas to market.”