The initial idea for the Ergonomic Shovel came from personal experience, says inventor Stephen Bosse. "Shoveling is tough," he says. "You get tired and sore. So I came up with this pen-and-paper design for a more comfortable shovel."
Bosse was studying entrepreneurship and finance at Loyola Marymount University when he decided to make the shovel his thesis. "That was two years ago when I first pitched it, and I ended up winning the business-model competition."
Sporting a rotating handle that can lock perpendicular to the shaft, the Ergonomic Shovel can be lifted without torquing one's arm. Bosse claims this can reduce strain, improve posture during lifting and grant the user a greater range of motion.
After winning a few more business-model competitions around the country, Bosse decided to try his pitch on the popular crowd-funding website Kickstarter. "Kickstarter is a great way for people who are engaged in innovative production and design to get their hands on it first."
Bosse's Kickstarter campaign successfully raised $64,000 on Oct. 23. He says the money will fund the first round of manufacturing, including tooling of the blades and manufacturing the shafts. "Right now we're doing the manufacturing tests and stress-test analysis," he says. While Kickstarter is not technically a commerce site, Bosse did promise to reward some of his backers with Ergonomic Shovels. "We know we can make the tools we promised to these people."
Bosse is planning an initial production run of 10,000. "We've submitted a patent, and we're setting up our manufacturing channels. Kickstarter definitely got us some attention," he says. "It's tough, but I'm having fun exploring the idea." The Ergonomic Shovel will cost between $60 and $80 and be available with interchangeable heads for different jobs.
"Kickstarter is a good litmus test for your product, to see if people are going to come on board," says Brandon Hyde, who successfully raised over $135,000 for his family's Cole-Bar hammer-prybar combination tool in May (ENR 5/20/13 p. 28).
But after the euphoria of beating their funding goal, Hyde had to face the realities of tool manufacturing. "We did a bit of redesign—the ergonomics were not where they needed to be—and there were heat-treating issues," he says. "We're about … three months behind the estimated delivery we put on Kickstarter. Our backers have been very supportive and appreciative of the time we've spent on it."
Hyde admits he was a bit overly optimistic about the fabrication process. "We have a plant in Taiwan. They were the only ones that could handle the gearing," he says. "We were trying for years before Kickstarter for a U.S. manufacturer, but most wouldn't touch it. Most of them flat out turned us down. They wouldn't take it on as a project."
The price point also has shifted. The Cole-Bar was originally pitched at about $60, but Hyde says it's now $79. "I don't want it to go higher than $89," he says.
Hyde says they are still aiming to get out the roughly 1,850 Cole-Bars promised to Kickstarter backers by Christmas as originally planned, but he admits it's a tight deadline. "We're hoping to have all our ducks in a row: manufacturing, fulfillment infrastructure and distribution in time for Father's Day 2014."