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Equippin' The Kids

.Isn't always expensive: Here it led to profitable inventions.

What's better than balancing work and family? Combining the two. Sometimes the best business ideas come from your kids' real-life needs. Meet two inventors who started with an honorable goal: to make their kids' lives a little safer.

It Ain't Heavy--It's My Backpack

Jill Greene Ammerman, a 44-year-old mother of two, can truly call herself the leader of the pack. She was working as a marketing and product development con-sultant for toy companies when a mother said to her, "Why don't you invent a backpack to make my kid stand up straight?"

Nearly a decade later, when articles began appearing linking heavy backpacks to back problems in children, Ammerman teamed up with toy inventor, engineer and back pain sufferer Brian La Pointe to design ergonomic packs. In a market test in 1998, the packs sold out, giving Ammerman the incentive she needed to start Beverly, Massachusetts-based AirPacks Inc. Today, the products are sold in catalogs and at retail stores nationwide, as well as on the company's Web site (www.airpacks.com), for projected 2000 sales of $3.5 million.

The packs' special design, which includes straps that adjust to a person's shape, transfers weight to the lower lumbar. And inflated cushions in the straps and lumbar support make the pack less abrasive. What spurred all this effort? In Ammerman's opinion, no one else was offering to carry the load. Both "as a mother and a consumer," she was annoyed at the backpack manufacturers' irresponsibility.

A Head-On Solution

After head-butting a ball during a soccer game, Ben Zatlin complained of dizziness and dropped to his knees. Although Ben was OK, his father, longtime youth soccer coach Stuart Zatlin, 43, became increasingly concerned about the number of head injuries among soccer-playing kids.

In 1998, teaming up with designers, Zatlin invented the Head Blast, a patent-pending, lightweight, molded headband layered with foam, plastic and terrycloth designed to fit players 6 to 12 years old. Since the Head Blast hit sporting goods stores and the Web (www.headblast.com), it has been featured in USA Today and on Inside Edition, and has garnered modest earnings for Zatlin's St. Louis, Missouri-based Benian's Enterprises LLC.

Although the soccer community's macho attitude has been an obstacle, some coaches are planning to try out the head-band during practices and games. Says Zatlin, "It's a great way to show kids the proper way to head a ball."


Pamela Rohland often writes about the joys and tribulations of entrepreneurship for a variety of regional and national business publications.

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This article was originally published in the September 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Equippin' The Kids.

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