The Shallow End

Don't start by diving into bigger markets-get your product's feet wet by finding a profitable niche.

Inventions are the basis for plenty of companies, from multimillion-dollar corporations to small, $100,000 businesses. While many inventors shoot for the former, those in the latter category are nothing to sneeze at. They can generate a modest annual income, often without hiring any employees, facing stiff competition or having to make a significant investment. For inventors without strong management skills, finding a unique product in a small target market is often ideal.

Kelly Greene of La Jolla, California, got her inspiration in 1992 when she moved into a new apartment. Greene, 42, liked swimming laps for recreation and fitness, but her apartment complex's pool was too small to provide a meaningful workout. She thought the best solution was to create a method to swim in place.

Greene's big breakthrough came when she saw teenagers at the beach carrying surfboards with plastic leashes attached. "I immediately went out, bought two surfboard leashes and made my first prototype," Greene says. "The plastic tubes were too stiff, so I substituted a bungee cord for the tube, and I had my product."

Greene's company, SwimCords, has just one product line-SwimCord (retailing at $32.95 to $38.95), a stretchable cord attached to neoprene ankle straps. First-year sales were $15,000 in 1996; last year, SwimCords passed the $100,000 mark.

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This article was originally published in the June 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Shallow End.

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