Necessity spawns innovations developed at Don Ryan Center

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If you ever say, "Someone should invent that," maybe that someone is you.

Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka recently praised Hilton Head Island resident and inventor Steve DeSimone for designing the Elongator, an extension that can also become a ramp for the bed of a pickup truck.

It won first place in new products at SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Manufacturer Association, an international trade association focused on all things related to cars, trucks and SUVs.

DeSimone took his idea to Bluffton's Don Ryan Center for Innovation where it was developed into an award-winning invention. David Nelems, chief executive officer of the DRCI, said the idea sprang out necessity.

"As the owner of a construction company, Steve was regularly sending people to pick up loads of lumber so he thought why not extend the bed of his pickup," said Nelems. "It's one of those things that you look at and say, 'why hasn't anybody come up with this before'?"

That question holds true for many of the products in development at the DRCI. Two new clients say their ideas came from a need for something that didn't exist, but should.

Employment match-making

"I wanted to develop a way for businesses that need temporary help to connect with teachers who are interested in weekend jobs, extra work, summer jobs," said teacher and engineer Justin Robinson, so he developed the web site Tiza.jobs. The need was readily apparent, he said.

"The day I had the website roll out in December, I was coming off the island listening to the radio. A search group for restaurants was looking for 76 employees at a time when teachers weren't working," he said. "You can make a lot of money here during the summer and the holidays. You could probably make close to your salary working part-time and that's the benefit of this area."

Robinson took his idea to DRCI about two months ago. Nelems said the advantage of hiring teachers is they are well-trained, educated, drug-tested and cleared for employment.

"It's one of those niche markets that no one would ever think about," said Nelems. "But it's a match-making service. Why not match employers with pre-screened, qualified, short-term and seasonal work employees?"

Long-range plans are to discern if there is potential for income with what might amount to a premium user level, said Robinson. In the meantime, the whole program is free for use by Beaufort County teachers and businesses.

Like many new ideas, it's off to a quiet start but Robinson is optimistic. "I haven't gotten that many users on it yet," he said. "It's kind of like chicken and egg. The businesses want to see the teachers and the teachers want to see the businesses."

A big plus for both parties is the teachers already live in the area, so finding housing for employees is not an issue for the businesses seeking to hire.

Medicine by Dose to Go

There's nothing like traveling with large medicine bottles for a weekend visit when all you need is a dose or two.

That was the dilemma faced by Paul De La Torre and his wife Heather when an idea struck him.

"It really started when my wife and I had two small children. We were en route to see family. One of the children was sick as we had to stop and get some liquid Tylenol or something," De La Torre recalled. "You have that little cup that comes with it, you give the dose and the cup gets sticky, you stick it in your diaper bag wrapped in napkin. And you're traveling with a big bag of liquid medicine."

De La Torre commented at the time that it was a shame they didn't make something for a single dose of liquid that could be put in a bag.

That's when Heather suggested they start doing research to see what was available. They found nothing.

That was in 2013. De La Torre then got on the computer, sketched out a rough drawing of what he was looking for and showed it to Heather.

"She said 'exactly'," he said. That's when the work began.

They came up with the name "Dose To Go," registered a web domain, did a product search, a trademark search, went to see a patent attorney in Florida, did a patents search, filed for a patent in 2014 and were awarded the patent in 2016.

Dose To Go began its partnership with DRCI Nov. 28, 2017.

"The vial has doses that are premeasured like a modified plastic test tube," said Nelems. "If you're sending your child to school with amoxicillin, the nurse can dispense the actual amount without worrying about overdosing. Take it on the road for a few days with several doses, and it's no muss, no fuss and dishwasher safe."

De La Torre said the goal is to get Dose To Go into the hands of companies such as CVS, Walgreens, Publix and potentially some children's stores as well as trade shows. "My wife's definitely a thinker. I often say I wish they made something for 'this,'" he said. "Well, this time, for whatever reason I said I'm going to see if there is something out there."

The Don Ryan Center for Innovation was honored with the 2017 Bluffton Regional Business Council Member of the Year Award. The Hilton Head-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce announced the award at its annual gala Jan. 27.

"We are thrilled to be recognized by the Chamber for the work we have done these past few years. Our focus every day is to help both existing and new businesses in Bluffton," said David Nelems, CEO. "The exciting thing is, we're just getting started."

For more information, visit donryan center.com.

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.

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