Have you ever thought of something unique and wondered why somebody hasn't made it yet? Most of us probably do, as did I one day. Now, I have turned my idea into reality -- Icy Light, an ice scraper with a detachable flashlight that is now available at 18 Whatcom County stores. The process is a long one and it hasn't been cheap, but there are some great resources locally for anyone who wants to try.
While living in Alaska in 2005, I accepted a position as a school bus driver. I was eagerly looking forward to my first day - and the first snowfall of the year! Every morning as I left the house walking on the dark path to my car, I would slip on the ice or stumble in the snow as I tried to scrape the ice from my windshield and prepare for work. After many such mornings, I thought how much safer and easier this would be if there was a flashlight on my ice scraper (aka credit card or driver's license) so that I could see where I was going and what I was doing. This was my "flash of genius" moment.
Getting frozen out of my rented home, I moved back to Western Washington and met Kristi, whom I married a year later. I shared my idea with her on our first wedding anniversary, Dec. 31, 2007. I showed her my sketches and then she cut right to the chase: "Put up or shut up!"
Kristi wanted me to quit mulling over the concept and see if this was viable, so the journey began. We hired Mike Hughes, a local patent attorney, to conduct an initial patent search. Mike referred us to Dave Kirk, owner of Vanco, a local plastic injection molding company. Dave became my mentor and advises me to this day.
I attended two classes in 2008 that were offered by the local SCORE chapter (http://www.scorechapter591.org/): "Starting and Managing a New Business" and "Building a Business Plan." These classes really helped define the organizational process.
I also contacted Western Washington University's Small Business Development Center (http://cbe.wwu.edu/sbdc/) in 2009. I took a class on financing a small business that was taught by Jennifer Shelton, director of the SBDC. She arranged for a WWU student working toward an MBA degree to assist me, focusing on the details of my business plan. I've had many meetings with Jennifer since then. The free assistance from the SBDC has helped us immensely. With all this support, Latham Lake Innovations, LLC was formed in March of 2010.
While we often hear the phrase "patent pending," I've been learning how long "pending" can be. We filed a provisional patent application with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office in 2010 and then sought a utility patent in 2011. The patent office told us it would take three years to determine whether a patent should be granted; others have said it likely will be longer.
After years of sacrifice, we had saved enough to hire an industrial engineer and create a tooling die (mold) for Icy Light. I sought price quotes from 41 manufacturing companies before selecting Pasco Tool & Plastics of Pennsylvania - it was important to us to select an American manufacturer.
We could practically hear the clock ticking since we wanted to get Icy Light to the marketplace before winter hit. Our initial inventory arrived Nov. 24, which is when we launched our website, www.IcyLight.com, and made our product available for sale. Icy Light presently comes in four flashlight colors - black, silver, red and blue - and is available for $9.95 apiece.
I then began contacting local businesses that may be willing to sell Icy Light. The first to do so was Fullner Christmas Tree Farm of Everson. I had met owners Marvis and Susan Kelley in a social media marketing class at Whatcom Community College and they were very supportive. Since then, 18 local stores have begun carrying Icy Light, including NAPA Auto Parts in Everson, Lynden and Ferndale, plus a number of hardware stores and farm and garden stores.
While my focus this winter was with Whatcom County stores, I'm now developing relationships with manufacturer representatives to assist in introducing Icy Light to a larger consumer base. I'm so thankful for all who have supported us in pursuing our American Dream. I love it when it snows, and it's always snowing somewhere!
ABOUT WINDOW ON MY WORLD
Window On My World is an occasional essay in Monday's Bellingham Herald that allows Whatcom County residents to share their passion for what they do, an idea or cause they support. Send your Window On My World, which must be no more than 700 words, to Julie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeff Latham is co-owner of Latham Lake Innovations, LLC, and inventor of Icy Light, an ice scraper with a detachable flashlight now available at www.icylight.com and 18 Whatcom County stores.