Posted by: Marty Fahncke | July 25, 2007

American Inventor Semi-Finals

Light Bulb

Let me start out by saying that this episode just about drove me crazy with the over-used cliché’s “life changing”, “Next Level” “Step up”, and “Once in a lifetime”.  Each of these phrases was used several times in the episode.  Can’t these people come up with something original to say?

OK, on to reviews of the inventions (and the inventors!)

The purpose of this semi-final episode was to narrow down the six regional semi-finalists down to three finalists, to be voted on by the viewing audience.  Before this episode started, I predicted the finalists would be the Convertible Bra, EZT4U, and Guardian Angel.  Keep reading to see how it came out…

Elaine Cato – Annette Convertible Bra (Formerly the 6 in 1 backless bra)
Focus group:  Focus group was positive on the product.
Design/development: Elaine’s initial prototype seemed pretty far along, so the design phase seemed to mostly be refinement and tweaking for style. 
Very hesitant and nervous in the presentation
Spent most of the time talking about the dream, and not the product. Yes, the dream is important, but not when you are pitching for a million dollars.
The judges asked her what she spent the $50,000 on, which is a good question.  I can’t imagine it took 50 grand to take the product from where it was, to where it is. 
All that aside, she still made it to the finals!

Mike and Joe Miller – Wrap-A-Way
Focus group:  Positive response from the focus group
Design/development:  Took a wooden prototype and created a good-looking stainless steel model.
Presentation:  Their presentation was terrible, and they forgot their script halfway through.  When pressed, they also fell back to talking about themselves and their dreams, and not the invention.  (Although they didn’t make it to the finals, I think they are far enough along on this product to bring it to market, particularly via DRTV.  I think you’ll be seeing the Wrap-A-Way in a store near you soon.

Ricky DeRennaux  – HT Racers
Focus group:
HT Racers got slammed by the focus group.  Not one kid in the group was positive on the invention. 
Design/development:  Added some refinements to make the products more exciting, and certainly more colorful.  As we learn in the presentation, they also developed different products for different ages/skill levels. 
Presentation:  Good presentation.  He was clearly quite nervous, but it didn’t seem to distract too much.  One question the judges asked…”Can this invention be the next big toy”.  Ricky said yes, as he should have, but I’m not so sure.  I think the product is cool, and has the potential to sell well.  But let’s be realistic, it’s not going to be the next Tickle Me Elmo or Cabbage Patch Kid.  
Even so, the judges believed in it enough to select HT Racers to go on to the finals.

Denise and George Tucker – The Tea Brain (formerly EZT4U)
Focus group:
  The focus group totally slammed the invention
Design/development:  Big problems in the design phase, as the inventors found out their prototype design wouldn’t work on coffee makers as designed, due to water temperature issues.  This required a substantial re-design of the invention.
Changing the name to The Tea Brain was a good idea.  I didn’t like the EZT4U name. 
The big problem…I’m confused about what exactly this device is now.  I know they had to change the design because of a problem with temperature control with existing coffee makers, but what exactly am I buying here?  Is it still just a basket insert?  Does it have a heating element now?  It looks big and clunky now. 
They did have some stats on the tea market, which put them ahead of the competition from a business presentation standpoint. 
That didn’t help them however, as they were not selected as a finalist.

David Moeller and Craig Forest  – The Claw Bike Hanger
Focus group:
  The focus group was very negative on the product.  However, I wonder who put this focus group together.  The inventors believe the market is “active cyclists”, but not one member of the focus group looked like a cyclist to me.    What does a cyclist look like?

 Greg LeMond and Marty Fahncke
Here is a picture of me (Marty M. Fahncke) with 3 time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond.

Design/development:  This phase helped the product look a lot better, and more consumer friendly.
Presentation:  Was the “slickest” presentation of all of them, but think that actually hurt them with he judges.  One of the guys sitting in a swing hanging from a Claw was good, as it showed how strong it was.  The kid they had in their presentation took three tries to get her bike out of the Claw, which didn’t look good.
In the Q&A, they mentioned that they hired a market research company, which surveyed
256 active cyclists. According to them, 61% of cyclist hang their bike (I do), and of those,  1 in 5 would buy the Claw.  I think both the inventors and judges are missing the real market here.  Yes, the “cyclist” market is logical, but I think the bigger market is the garage organization market.  Forget hanging up expensive road bikes…what about all the kids bikes cluttering the garage? 
One huge problem with the Claw…the price.  During the presentation, David and Craig said their product will sell for $40.  I think that is about 4 times too much.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the key to success on this product will be in the price.

Greg Chavez – Guardian Angel
Focus Group:  Overall positive comments from the focus group
Design/development: Greg had the most work to do getting his idea from paper to working prototype, and he pulled it off.   The design company he was working with should be commended on helping him make that happen in such a short timeframe.
Presentation:  Greg had the best presentation overall.  He was calm, clear, and the demonstration video was very powerful.
He mentioned that the design now includes a detachable tree top angel, so people can put a star, spire, or whatever they want on their tree. 
I wasn’t too impressed with the logo and packaging however.  I think there is some work to be done yet there.
Guardian Angel was selected as one of the three finalists. 

To sum up who made it to the finals:
Elaine Cato – Annette Convertible Bra
Greg Chavez – Guardian Angel
Ricky DeRennaux  – HT Racers

I got two out of three predictions right! 

My prediction for the finals…
Who do I think will win?:  Guardian Angel will take the prize.  It has a great story, a passionate inventor, a life-saving appeal, and decent, although not “mass” market. 

Which invention has the best DRTV potential?  The Annette Convertible Bra.  This product is just crying out for an infomercial to explain all the benefits.  I think if it’s on a retail shelf, it will sell “ok”, but if it has DRTV support (no pun intended) then it could be a home run.

What do you think?  Let me know YOUR predictions by clicking the comments link, below right…


  1. I would like to submit some serious Marketing Facts for Elaine Cato who invented the backless brassiere and is 1 of the 3 finalists in the American Inventor. She needs to show a full figure breast implanted user (which could be anyone who has survived breast cancer or even large chested Exotic Dancers) or anyone who is no longer able to hook a bra in the back – including the hundreds of thousands of us with severe Arthritis. She missed addressing several additional HUGE markets that would immediately purchase her “Six in One” bra.

  2. Dear S Mazurek,

    You make a good point. There are a number of potential markets out there for this invention. I’m sure whether she wins the $1 million or not, she will be bringing this invention to market, and will address all of the potential markets who could benefit from the product.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  3. Mike and Joe Miller’s Wrap-A-Way from Sullivan, Missouri has a website up already and their product is forsale, darn shame there purchase link doesn’t work, so no way to see a price without calling in, but it is not offered in stainless steal, but in oak!

  4. Keith,
    Thanks for pointing that out. I checked all the links as well, and none of them work to place an order. What a shame…they are missing their golden opportunity. Mike and Joe, if you need some help with your e-commerce, please contact FawnKey & Associates ( right away!

  5. I thought that the Guardian Angel was heartfelt, however I think that it could be a huge liability. Will it need to be backed up by an insurance company? As a woman I would be interested in Annettes invention, but I would like to try it on before I bought it.

  6. […] GREG CHAVEZ and the GUARDIAN ANGEL just as I predicted last week! […]

  7. Top Three

    Bra–I liked the bra, though I noticed that when she lifted up her arm, you could see a strap go under her arm. When a woman wears a bra, she doesn’t like it to show anywhere. It seemed like it worked, though. It was good of her to wear it on the first presentation. I knew Maidenform was going to come out!

    HT Racers–I really liked this one, and it was actually a personal favorite. The focus group was right. I couldn’t see boys as old as they were playing with models. Most boys this age are into sports. He was smart to lower the age group. It would be a great thing for parents to do with their boys (or girls). But someone please hand him a kleenex! I like that his students/family/etc love him, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man cry that much!

    Guardian Angel–I knew this would win, because the ones where “lives are saved” is a big focus–sort of the emotional thing. I didn’t see it work enough to see it win, but I thought the same thing about the car seat winner last year. Getting a child’s carseat approved by cpsc will be a lot of work! They are very thorough.


    Wrap-a-way–thanks for the link. This would be something that is very handy in the kitchen. It’s too bad they tried to be so different during their last presentation. I never thought it would be the big winner, but I did like the invention.

    Claw–Sounds like a good idea, but I looked at my own two-car garage. The only place the claw would hang from the ceiling would be in the middle of the garage, between the two cars. It would be quite annoying to try to get out of the car, get the kids out of the car, etc. with the bikes hanging in the way. It was funny with the girl’s troubles putting up the bike–how did I know that was going to happen?!

    Tea Brain–This was my least favorite–possibly because I just don’t drink tea–or coffee for that matter! My major problem with it (and maybe I am wrong) but I don’t think that most people who drink coffee also drink tea, and vice versa. I think the two should have created (instead of a basket) they sould have created a tea pot that did what this basket was supposed to do. That way, people who only drink tea could buy this “tea brain.” I do think there would be a market for a separate tea brewer. I mean, we have panini makers, waffle makers, slushee makers, you name it…what’s one more gadget in the kitchen!

    On a side note, what was the deal with the “shortness” of this American Inventor. Last year I remember the contestants making commercials, testing, etc. I would have enjoyed seeing that! Maybe next year… (so, who do we think is going to come back, if there is a 3rd season–black cougar? the “everything’s going to be all right” doll? I personally hope the man who invented the “steak griller” would perfect his machine and come back.

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