August's spark of genius article

A Tangled Dream

Messina Smith : Office of Innovation Development

Free couples counseling doesn’t sound like a pitch for a drain cleaning product, but that’s exactly what one inventor has been told her device provides—in addition to getting a dirty job done.

“You don’t even realize what my wife’s long hair does to our marriage!”—it’s a variation on a theme Jennifer Briggs, Inventor of the DrainWig, has heard many times.

“They say, ‘I love her hair, but I hate it in the shower,’” said Jennifer.

A long-haired wife herself, Jennifer explained how “Couples argue over whose job it is to clean the drain.” According to her, the DrainWig, a small device that collects hair and is easily removed and disposed, saves people the conflict over deciding who has the unpleasant task of unclogging the drain.

“You don’t realize the psychological aspect to DrainWig until you experience it,” said Jennifer.

But that’s the way these simple, yet life-changing, inventions affect people’s lives.

Jennifer’s inspiration for the DrainWig came one day as she stood in the shower and looked down at a massive wad of hair dangling in the drain. After calling in her husband, Gifford, and telling him she thought there was a “gopher in the drain,” they did some investigating. Gifford ran to the garage for his tools, and together they unscrewed the drain cover and pulled out what was inside.

“I’m one of those crazy people who floss in the shower,” said Jennifer, which explains how a piece of floss had become snagged on the drain cover.

When they pulled it out, there was a huge tangle of hair hanging from the floss. At first they were confused. How could hair stick to a strand of dental floss? Then they got curious. They tied another piece of floss to the drain and after months of experimenting they discovered that as the hair entered the drain it actually floated on top of the water in the p-trap and then twisted and tangled the hair around the piece of floss.

As a mother of five girls, finding any solution to help with clogged drains was a win for Jennifer. Recognizing that she had a potentially game-changing idea that needed further development, for the next year Jennifer and her family created and tested different prototypes, running into a few problems along the way.

Tying floss to the shower drain cover meant they had to unscrew it every time they replaced the floss. Inevitably a screw would roll down the drain, which meant more hassles and a trip to the hardware store. By tying the floss to a black ring washer, it could sit on top of the drain, but it wasn’t ideal.

“Every time I got into the shower, I thought it was a bug,” said Jennifer.

The solution showed itself one day while Jennifer was looking at her earrings. They were shaped like flowers.

“Let’s make a product that’s attractive and practical,” thought Jennifer.

Thus was born the plastic daisy that holds the DrainWig in place over the shower drain.

Another problem they came across was that the hair would slip down the floss when they tried to pull it up through the drain. They needed to anchor the hair somehow. Jennifer’s children had some balls that had rubber whiskers all over them, which she noticed always collected hair and dirt. So they tore apart one of the balls and tied the whiskers along a chain at different intervals. Now the hair would tangled all along the chain, making it easier to pull through the drain cover.

In all, Jennifer said they made about a dozen different prototypes the first year.

“Looking back, we have to laugh at our first prototypes. But that’s what led us to the final product solution.”

Jennifer and Gifford received U.S. patent number 8,910,322 on December 16, 2014.

“When my husband called to tell me ‘We got it,’ I cried,” she said.  “As a stay-at-home mom without the resources of a large corporation, I finally felt a sense of security once we received our patent. That is when the investors started taking the DrainWig seriously.”

With patent in hand, Jennifer “felt a weight off my shoulders.”

Throughout her journey bringing the DrainWig to market, Jennifer has attended conferences and tradeshows and grown more confident speaking in public. In fact, she loves talking with others about her product.

While attending many conferences and tradeshows, Jennifer learned to really listen to the comments she was receiving about her product. Carrying a notebook around with her, she wrote down everything, positive or negative. Talking with people helped her improve the product, from changing the original name, to making it a disposable product that people can just get rid of instead of touching the disgusting hair. All the advice and criticism she received helped her product succeed and get to where she is today. She even won first prize in a new product category contest her husband signed her up for during a Las Vegas international tradeshow.

DrainWig is currently licensed to a direct-response company that aims to get the product into major retailers. But that’s not the only future Jennifer hopes for her invention.

“So many people have helped my husband and me along the way,” Jennifer said. “Being able to give back, helping other people, and creating jobs for others some day is my dream.”

She especially desires to be able to help other women who haven’t had the same opportunities as her.

“There are so many women I know—divorced, single, abused—that I would love to give a job to, help them get on their feet, and help bring them happiness. That means more to me than money. My husband and I would be happy forever if we could do that.”

Jennifer’s advice for other inventors is simple: “A good patent lawyer makes all the difference.” Also, “Have an open mind and be open to what people suggest. The consumer ultimately tells you if you have something good or not.”

For now, Jennifer is looking forward to the future of DrainWig with her family beside her.

“It’s been a life changing experience, one I would do all over again and wouldn’t change a thing.”

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