In third grade, students typically focus on multiplication, division, reading, and writing. In 2011, however, Marissa Streng, an industrious 9-year-old from central Florida, invented a product that better dried her dog Mojo after his baths. With the support of her parents, she then began learning about intellectual property and what it takes to run a family business. She even met a few celebrities along the way. Now in her first year of college, Streng proves that age really is just a number when it comes to invention.
Each month, our Journeys of Innovation series tells the stories of inventors or entrepreneurs whose groundbreaking innovations have made a positive difference in the world. Hear it in their own words or read the transcript below.
Marissa Streng: I knew I wanted to go further with this product. I knew it could really go places. That’s when we started deciding and started that whole process of getting that patent, getting the trademarked name, and protecting everything that we had.
Marie Ladino: At a very early age, Marissa Streng received a patent and trademark for her invention, the Puff-N-Fluff dog dryer. In addition to overcoming the challenges many innovators face, she had to earn the respect of those who doubted her because she was a child. Now a successful entrepreneur and college freshman, Streng sets an example for other young innovators, showing that anyone can invent and start a business.
I’m Marie Ladino from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. I recently spoke with Streng about her experiences as a young inventor and entrepreneur. Here is a bit of our conversation.
I do think there needs to be a greater push to have more women involved in sciences and the STEM fields and make it not so, you know, obscure or strange for a woman to be there.
Marie Ladino: You were in third grade when you invented the Puff-N-Fluff. Can you tell me a little about your invention and what inspired you to create it?
Marissa Streng: Yes, of course. So for me, it all started with a science fair project where we all had to create a new invention that hadn’t been created before. And, of course, everyone was a little in awe and had no idea really what to do. And so I kind of started focusing on my dog Mojo, and I knew that he absolutely hated baths. He hated water and anything relating to it. And so I wanted to find a way to make bath time more enjoyable for him. And so after many ideas—I thought about maybe a tunnel he could run through to dry himself or something like that. I’ve actually realized it’d obviously have to be, you know, enclosed to really dry the dog. So from there, my mom and I went on the sewing machine one day and started making the prototype. And after all of that, you know, we entered all of our inventions into the USF [University of South Florida] Young Innovator Competition. And from there, I ended up winning for my age group, and we, that’s when we got the ball rolling with actually deciding to get it manufactured, get a patent, and everything else from there.
Marie Ladino: So you were granted a patent in 2013 for your invention, and you also have a registered trademark for the name ”Puff-N-Fluff.” How did you find out about patents and trademarks?
Marissa Streng: So at the first competition at USF, we actually had someone approach us and tell us about what a great product this is, and we could really benefit if we ever wanted to do something with it. We could get this patented and, you know, protect our idea. And once we really started thinking about it more, I knew I wanted to go further with this product. I knew it could really go places. And that’s when we started deciding and started that whole process of getting that patent, getting the trademarked name, and protecting everything that we had.
Marie Ladino: At what point did you come up with the name in your process?
Marissa Streng: I didn’t come up with the name until after I’d already created the invention and seen how it all worked, which I guess is, can be very different for a lot of people. I remember my whole family sitting in our living room just spit-balling different ideas. And I remember somehow I landed on that, and everyone stopped, and we’re like, “Okay, that’s the one. We’re sticking with that.“
One of the biggest “wow” factors with the Puff-N-Fluff is whenever, whenever you turn on that blow dryer, and it puffs up, and that’s always been whenever I’d get a reaction out of the crowd or anyone watching. And so I think I wanted somehow the name to relate to that, you know, the puffing feature.
Marie Ladino: So what was it like for you as a young person to start your own business?
Marissa Streng: So it definitely took a lot of learning and a lot of hurdles to jump through. And, of course, I always was going through school or soccer or something at the same time. So kind of juggling all that, all the different aspects of my life, with then, you know, starting a business at such a young age. I just remember, you know, especially when we started doing Jimmy Fallon or Steve Harvey, I’d have to take a week off of school to go to LA [Los Angeles], or figuring out how to get the timing of everything, and really time management with being able to run a business after school.
Marie Ladino: Did you face any challenges as a young inventor or as an entrepreneur?
Marissa Streng: The biggest part for me would definitely just be people doubting me or, you know, they’d see the product and look at it and laugh, or we’d be at a trade show and people just wouldn’t believe in it. And so a big part was then overcoming the obstacle of them not believing in the product, but then being explained the product by a 9-year-old. And so it definitely were, there was a big obstacle and trying to really, you know, convince people who didn’t believe in me that they needed to listen to me and that they needed to hear about this and that this product was important in their life.
Within the past couple of years, we’ve had quite a few issues with people counterfeiting the Puff-N-Fluff. I remember my first time seeing the product, and I was like, “Something is off. Why is it this color? The logo looks a little different.“ But they had my picture. They had a picture of me on the box, and I just remember it was just such a gut-wrenching feeling, seeing someone else, you know, copy your product and even put my own picture on it, on there. So we’ve had quite a bit of trouble recently, you know, trying to get those to be taken down, and we’ve seen other people trying to sell it. And I know we would send emails and things like that about saying that we had a patent, and you’d see it eventually get taken down. But these past few years, it’s been quite a struggle.
Marie Ladino: So looking back at everything you’ve accomplished, which is really incredible, what is the thing you’re most proud of?
Marissa Streng: Definitely what I am most proud of would be creating that invention in the first place. That was the first thing that just really opened up my mind to everything else that was possible. And then the next step was, I remember getting the call to be on Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” and not believing that any of it was true. We thought it was a fake caller, or something was off. And so being able to go on that show and realize that, you know, my product is something that can actually be used was really amazing. And then probably the final thing that I’m most proud of has just been public speaking, ’cause I’ve attended, you know, multiple events from this or had to go into the trade shows, and obviously, you know, being able to speak to everyone and convince them why your product is so, like why they need it, has been a big part of my life.
Marie Ladino: What was it like to meet Jimmy Fallon and Steve Harvey?
Marissa Streng: [Laughs] Pretty nerve-wracking. I was very, very nervous at first. I remember for Steve Harvey’s “Funderdome,“ they had us in a back room, you know, waiting to be called onstage for quite a few hours. And so you never knew when you were going to be called. All of a sudden, they’d say, “All right, it’s showtime,“ and you’d have to walk out there and give your pitch and give it the best you can do with all this live audience surrounding you. So it was definitely pretty, pretty amazing and nerve-wracking, and both of them were just so sweet to me. And obviously then having to deal with a dog onstage, it was another big hurdle, but Mojo did his best.
Marie Ladino: Have you had mentors who’ve helped you along the way?
Marissa Streng: Without a doubt, I would say my parents obviously played a huge part in just making any of this happen. From every small step, they always made sure I was included, that I was always at the meetings, and that I was always, you know, this was a big part of my life, and truly without this, none of this would have ever been possible. And for them to push me to keep my entrepreneurship and keep those innovative skills and creative mind has been a huge, huge part of my life.
Both my mom and dad and I all work together in the company. My mom handles a lot of the, you know, shipping, all of the emails, and everything. So we’ve definitely gotten, worked very, very closely, which obviously can cause a little, little strain at times, but for the most part, we’re all very, very close. It’s just another, you know, thing for us to all do together.
Marie Ladino: Were there teachers who were influential for you?
Marissa Streng: Definitely, I would say most of my science teachers have always been a big part, but especially that third-grade science teacher. I remember her that first day with all of us trying to come up with ideas, and her coming up beside me and just looking at everything and wanting to help. And I mean, if we had never had that invention fair, none of this would ever have happened.
Marie Ladino: Are there particular inventors or entrepreneurs whom you admire?
Marissa Streng: A big reason that I have been so interested in business is definitely from my dad starting his business. And I guess, you know, throughout all the years, he’s always given me those little tips of advice. And so I’d definitely say my dad.
Never stop once you’ve hit a hurdle. It’s always about, you know, what you do after that.
Marie Ladino: So I know that you are about to go to college. Is that right?
Marissa Streng: Yes, I’ll be attending Indiana University, the Kelley School of Business.
Marie Ladino: What do you plan to study in college?
Marissa Streng: Right now, I’m going to be majoring in management and a minor in psychology, but I’m sure they’ll definitely change in the next four years. But I’m definitely pursuing something in business. I know that it’s been a part of my life for so long. I just can’t imagine, you know, a career without it.
Marie Ladino: Where do you see yourself in five or 10 years?
Marissa Streng: I’d like to see myself, in 10 years, possibly running my own company, and, you know, being at the start of creating a business, but obviously we’ll just have to see what all happens. And maybe I’ll be back at school getting a master’s, but we’ll see where the path takes me.
Marie Ladino: So what subjects interest you as a student?
Marissa Streng: I’ve definitely always had a very strong interest in my science courses. So for these past couple of years in high school, I’ve actually been super, super interested in biology and microbiology and all the labs that go with it. Also, throughout high school, I’ve become really, really interested in ceramic artwork. So I’ve spent a lot of my extra time after school, too, and after soccer practices, working on different ceramic pieces.
Marie Ladino: So other than ceramics and soccer, are there other interests that you have outside of school?
Marissa Streng: I definitely spend a lot of time on my weekends wakeboarding or at the beach, too, which is definitely, you know, a huge part of living in Florida. And then besides that, I did spend a lot of extra time at school, whether it was with the French Club or Art Society. And then, I guess, I spent a lot of time during the summer working at local recreation camps and centers and spent a lot of time working with kids there.
Marie Ladino: In your opinion, what do you think can be done to get more young people, and especially girls, interested in inventing and also in STEM fields, you know, science, technology, engineering, and math?
Marissa Streng: Throughout all of high school and middle school, you’d see, as you get older and older, such a diminishing number of girls in your math classes or the harder sciences. And I do think there needs to be a greater push to have more women involved in sciences and the STEM fields and make it not so, you know, obscure or strange for a woman to be there, but instead a lot more welcoming, and it’s not just always, you know, the men that have to be in the science field, but the women as well.
I would definitely say, you know, sparking any creativity through trying to create inventions is a huge, huge way. And as young as they can start, I think they should begin to be encouraged to, you know, think outside of the box, to not keep everything so black and white. Instead, they can be encouraged to think of something out of the blue, think of something random, and be encouraged to just go farther with that. Instead, as soon as someone thinks outside of the box, they would be shut down. I think it would be so much more beneficial if they’re encouraged to run with that idea and see where it takes them.
Marie Ladino: What advice would you give to other young inventors?
Marissa Streng: As cliché as this is, it would be to never give up, even through any obstacles or negative feedback from other people—that’s always just another way to build and another way to grow—and to never stop once you’ve hit a hurdle. It’s always about, you know, what you do after that.
Marie Ladino: Many thanks to Marissa Streng for sharing her experiences with inventing and entrepreneurship. Her inspiring story shows why we should always encourage and support the creative ideas of young people. If you’re a budding innovator like Streng, or if you know someone who is, you can find resources for kids and teens on our website. From the USPTO, thanks for listening.
Produced by the USPTO Office of the Chief Communications Officer. For feedback or questions, please contact OCCOfeedback@uspto.gov.
Interview and story production by Marie Ladino. Audio editing by and contributions from Jay Premack. Additional contributions from Lauren Emanuel, Joyce Ward, and Eric Atkisson. The photo on the USPTO homepage features Marissa Streng on Steve Harvey’s ”Funderdome.” Unless otherwise noted, all images are courtesy of Marissa and Sharon Streng.