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Life Imitates Art

When this father-son team started thinking outside the fishbowl, a stylish and functional aquarium resulted.

What: Aquarium that hangs on the wall like a painting
Who: Scott and Stephen Yen of Aquavista Enterprise
Where: Menlo Park, California
When: Started in 2004
Startup Costs: $150,000

Scott Yen loved his pet fish but hated their tanks. "Fish tanks, by nature, are very ugly," he says. That's why the 31-year-old was so interested when a friend brought up the idea of creating a more attractive aquarium a few years ago.

Scott intended to design something that would look like a decorative painting. What he came up with was the Aquavista 500, a 6.6-gallon tank that is roughly 4 inches thick and hangs on a wall, secured by a steel bracket. "The whole concept of the Aquavista brand is to take an everyday product and turn it into a piece of art," says Scott. Customers can choose from more than 24 interchangeable frames and eight different backgrounds to customize their hanging aquariums.

This novel idea started taking shape in 2003, when Scott came up with a simple design that he took to a local machine shop, which produced the first rough prototype. Scott and his father, Stephen, 64, used their own funds to finance the creation of the product, and they consulted outside engineers who helped them with the overall design and materials. To make the aquarium easy to maintain, they added a wet-dry filtration system, lights, a small LCD temperature display and a heating system. By 2004, they had filed patents and incorporated the company. By the next year, they had located an overseas manufacturer in China. The aquarium, which is designed for freshwater fish, comes preassembled with all the necessary parts.

In 2006, Scott left his job as an investment banker to work full time on Aquavista. "I didn't know where this would go," Scott says. "Something told me this was something special when [I saw] how people reacted to our product." The company's unique aquarium is now sold online and through the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog, and Aquavista has distributors in Europe and the Middle East. Scott is also currently in talks with major retailers to carry the product nationwide and projects 2007 sales of more than $1.5 million.

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This article was originally published in the March 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Life Imitates Art.

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