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They are all here, young and old, clutching their laptops, cell phones and dreams. It's a little like being at an airport--in fact, there are as many international visitors here as Americans. They have flown in from Croatia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Moldova and Serbia, just to name a few. Everyone is handing out business cards like mad.
The energy is undeniable at the Pittsburgh ExpoMart in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, where the Invention/ New Product Exposition, or INPEX, is taking place. It is the largest invention trade show in the nation.
It's an exciting place, but does coming to a trade show like this actually generate results? As a nonscientific experiment, we looked at a long list of inventors before the 2005 show opened and chose a name at random, just to see how that inventor would fare a year later. Would he or she have an invention or product in stores, or at least on the way, thanks to INPEX? Or would the poor, disgruntled entrepreneur be in a bar nursing a drink and wishing things had worked out differently?
In the crowd of 300 exhibitors from 20 countries, featuring a total of 1,000 inventions, Christy Deike, 34, doesn't stand out from the crowd. This isn't an insult: She doesn't have a mohawk, as does one twentysomething European inventor, and Deike's invention isn't as eye-catching as, say, the maternity belly bed, a mattress that lets pregnant women sleep on their stomachs. It doesn't have the demonstrability of the pet ramp, designed to help elderly and feeble dogs climb up on a couch or a bed. And people aren't murmuring about Deike's invention the way they are about the vibrating condom.
Nonetheless, her invention is interesting, and it has the potential to be extremely useful for moms and dads with little ones. She designed the Sippy Leash, a piece of stretchy fabric that parents can tie to a toddler's sippy cup. The other end attaches to the child's car seat or stroller. Parents who complain of toddlers throwing their sippy cups out of their strollers or onto the car floor would buy a Sippy Leash and complain no more.
That, anyway, was Deike's hope.
Deike--the mother of Jada, 4, and Steele, 2--took her idea to her best friend, Stacy Dearing, 34.
Dearing was only too happy to help form Sippy Leash Inc. She was seeking a more promising future than her part-time careers-teasing hair at a salon, pouring drinks in a saloon and working at a cattle ranch-could provide.
Deike took the title of president; her husband, Troy, became vice president; and Dearing became secretary. Christy could make Sippy Leashes in a matter of minutes, so the trio's main duties in the beginning were to patent the product, market it to stores and ship leashes off to whomever was willing to place an order.
Before Christy went to INPEX, Fredericksburg, Texas-based Sippy Leash was doing brisk business, selling to 14 stores throughout Texas and in surrounding states. Troy, 41, still works full-time at UPS. Meanwhile, Christy runs her own bed and breakfast, as well as a gravel pit--both full time.
But Sippy Leash has been the most time-consuming endeavor of all. "Every vacation day, every sick day, Troy's been watching the kids so I can pursue my passion," says Christy. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here."
Here is INPEX, a kettle of ideas. Every exhibitor, whether from Trinidad and Tobago or the American heartland, is eager to show off his or her product.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.