Mina Yoo didn’t actually recognize that she was an inventor until she’d received two utility patents during her journey toward creating Heroclip, the do-everything carabiner/hook that has attracted fans and funding over the past four years.
Now Yoo, the former professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Washington, and Hilary Meyerson, a writer and social media marketing expert, have teamed to inspire other women to be inventors. Their new book is called “Be an InventHer: An Everywoman’s Guide to Creating the Next Big Thing.”
Only 4 percent of patents granted in the last decade in the U.S. list a woman as the inventor, according to the authors. That figure represents a lack of role models and inspiration for would-be creators.
“That’s one of the reasons that we chose to focus on women inventors in our book,” Yoo told GeekWire. “The women we feature are very easy to relate to in terms of their life circumstances and backgrounds, yet they were able to successfully come up with a product that hadn’t existed before — and bring it to market.”
Meyerson said the self-doubt women inventors face is the same struggle encountered by any female business owner. That “imposter syndrome” can be fueled by outside doubters or male-dominated press or industry insiders who are predominantly male.
“As a female business owner, I’ve faced some of these same things,” she said. “I’ve walked into meetings where people ask if I’m the personal assistant or ask my credentials in a way that isn’t asked of male participants. Many of the InventHers I interviewed had similar experiences; some were told they needed male business partners or were not taken seriously by investors. I think it’s changing now, but women need to have a thick skin.”
When Yoo came up with the idea for Heroclip, she initially didn’t even view it as “inventing” because inventing was a mysterious, unreachable thing that other people did. She simply created something because she needed it, not because she felt compelled to invent something.
Now she’s approached by people whose everyday lives have been changed by her product. Her young kids are involved and interested in the business and their playtime often involves inventing something.
“Our main goal is to inspire women to just go for it,” Meyerson said of “Be an InventHer.” “If you have a great idea, and are willing to put the work in, there is no reason that you can’t be the next big successful product inventor. Women are insanely creative, but are often too risk-adverse or underestimate their skills. We want them to read this book and say, ‘I can do this.'”
Keep reading for an excerpt from “Be an InventHer: An Everywoman’s Guide to Creating the Next Big Thing” by Mina Yoo and Hilary Meyerson. All rights reserved, with permission from Sasquatch Books.
The Initial Idea: The Baby Stages of Market Research
It might seem like every invention has an “aha!” moment story; that brilliant flash of insight, which then becomes a bestselling product throughout the world. When you are being interviewed at your local TV station about your wildly successful invention, you will want an inspiring story of how you stepped on Bubble Wrap one day and came up with a great idea for an intruder alert system based on popping small plastic spheres. But the truth is ideas that become great products don’t always come from a single “aha!” moment. A product’s origin story might not be so sound-bite perfect. Ideas can come from experiencing mundane daily problems, being a consumer unhappy with current choices, or just being a keen observer of the world around you. The success stories of other InventHers are not instances of idea gods randomly striking individuals with bolts of inspiration, acts that can’t be replicated. Rather, anyone with an idea has the potential to become a success story if she works for it (and has this book by her side).
Like to Complain? You’re Way Ahead of the Game
Inspiration is everywhere! For many InventHers, the initial baby lightning bolt of an idea comes from their own daily lives, when they continually face a nagging problem for which they cannot find a desirable solution. We say “desirable” because it is very possible that a solution exists, but for whatever reason it is not the right solution for you (and others like you).
After having her first baby and then training to summit Mount Rainier, Mina realized that she was constantly lugging a lot of things, and often there was not a good place to set her stuff when she needed her hands to do something else (or just take a break). Although she found items like bungee cords, carabiners, and mommy hooks in the market already, she wanted an elegant, simple solution that could go from activity to activity with her, no matter where she was or what she was doing. What she really needed was an extra hand (at a price way lower than what an actual extra hand would cost), and the initial idea for Heroclip was born.
For your own first “aha!” moment or idea genesis, don’t limit yourself to problems that only you face. Hey, you could have a completely problem-free life for all we know, but don’t let that stop you from solving other people’s problems! Although a great many inventions are inspired by our own lives, other inventions are driven by a desire to solve problems that affect society at large. Physicist Shirley Ann Jackson, the first black woman to earn a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, invented caller ID and call-waiting while working for AT&T Bell Laboratories in the 1970s. Nancie Weston, inventor of the Grayl water-purifier bottle, was inspired by the vast numbers of people in the world who do not have access to clean water. That led to a desire to provide them with an easy solution.
Done solving other people’s problems through products? While our book focuses on physical products, inventions can be intangible products (like software) or not products at all. Sometimes an invention can come in the form of a process, or how something is done. Although Henry Ford wasn’t the first to produce an automobile, he was the first to produce an automobile affordable to the general public. And he was able to do this by being the first to use a moving assembly line in which an unfinished product moved from one workstation to the next, getting parts added on until it became a finished product. Before the assembly line, the main model for making a product was a craftsman model, in which one person made the product from start to finish.
Another case of a “process invention” is how things are sold. Amazon and online selling (e-commerce) is an example that affects pretty much anyone living on earth. Subscription boxes are another recent process invention. We also have the older example of direct selling (like Amway and Avon), where products are sold by trusted friends or at gatherings (Tupperware parties for our parents and Stella & Dot parties for us). Processes can also be patented — inventions can happen in any form!
Our point here is that problems are all around you, and you may very well have the solution, whatever the form it may take. The critical part of being an InventHer is to pay attention to the lightbulb moments, take them seriously enough to think about them beyond the initial “aha,” and take the time to explore them to see if the ideas have legs.