You’re in the self-service check out line at the grocery store and it’s obvious the person in front of you using the touch screen has a terrible cold. When it’s your turn to touch the screen to pay for your groceries, what do you do? Michigan based inventor, Robert Helm, has developed the Accu-Text ™ to help protect people from exposure to germs found on touch screens and other “shared usage” devices.
The Accu-Text ™ is an antimicrobial fingertip cover that can reduce the spread of germs. Providing a protective barrier is one use of the Accu-Text ™, but not why Helm initially created the product.
Three years ago Helm was in the air filtering business. Like many professionals who are away from their office for long stretches, he invested in a Blackberry so he could be productive even on the go. The only problem was that the buttons on the phone were too small for him to type quickly. He shopped around for a tool that would make it easier for him to text with his fingers, but came up empty.
An inventor at heart, one day Helm sat down and drew a picture of a device that would cover the thumbs. This was the beginning of the Accu-Text ™. The Accu-Text ™ was not Helm’s first invention, but it was the first he would take all the way to market.
“My goal is to create solutions,” he says. This is what being a husband and father has done for him. His four children make him wonder, “how do I manage and give them everything they need?” This type of speculation translates into products that Helm hopes will be of use to many people.
As coincidence would have it, around the time Helm first dreamed up the idea for the fingertip covers he met someone who worked with molds and he was able to learn a few things. He purchased liquid latex, blue clay and other materials and began to experiment. “The thing I came up with was pretty ugly,” he admits, “but it gave me the idea.”
By the end of 2008, Helm signed up with another company, PRG, to produce the first prototype for the Accu-Text ™. “That’s when the light bulb really lit up,” he says. Upon seeing the prototype, he realized there could be many other uses for the fingertip covers in addition to improving accuracy when texting. You could also use it as a barrier when touching shared usage screens.
Next Helm began to research how to turn his invention into a business opportunity. He started Accu Distributing in 2009 one year after coming up with the rough idea for the covers. Accu Distributing officially launched the Accu-Text ™ in January, and the product has already gained quite a bit of momentum.
Earlier this year the Accu-Text ™ was ranked as “Most Innovative Product” at the Specialty Retail Entrepreneur Expo (SPREE) Trade Show held in Las Vegas. The first retailer to carry the Accu-Text™ is Afro Visions in Lansing, Michigan. In addition, the company has attracted its first commercial client, a large healthcare organization.
Helm is proud to be counted among the 21st century African-American inventors, and he is eager to help others who have a great idea, but aren’t sure what to do next.
Validate your idea.
Many inventors play their cards very close to the chest, as they are afraid that someone might steal their idea. Helm says being too guarded is a mistake. You won’t know if people will actually want your product if you don’t tell them about it. “Make sure it’s something that’s really viable,” offers Helm.
Of course you should be smart and protect your invention. Helm filed for the provisional application for a patent prior to having the prototype made.
Understand the process.
When you come up with an original product, be involved in all aspects of the development. “If nothing else, you learn how to manage your idea and your concept,” says Helm. “I asked a lot of questions. If I didn’t understand, I kept asking.” As a former instructor, this is what Helm expected of his students. “Don’t just get an answer. Make sure you understand,” he urges.
So far, Accu Distributing has spent $30,000 on research, development, production and distribution of their inaugural product. Helm keeps costs down by doing much of the work—even graphics, marketing and website design—himself. However, he warns against going into areas where you’re completely out of your depth of knowledge. “The key is knowing how to do what you do best,” he advises. Then outsource the rest.
It’s not unusual for Helm to work 16 or more hours a day. He views TV not as a way to relax but as a time waster. “I’m very adamant about following up,” he says. “As we begin to build a buzz, I think the Accu-Text ™ will become a household item.”
While the Accu-Text ™ is a barrier against germs, testing is currently being done to provide data on how effective the covers are at killing germs as well as its usage with other devises such as video game controllers. “We know what it has the potential to do,” says Helm. “Now our goal is to prove it.”
“We have global objectives,” Helm continued noting that his website has received visitors from 61 different countries. In addition to selling the Accu-Text ™ to individuals, through the company’s website www.textaccessory.com, Accu Distributing offers discounted prices for those who want to buy the product in bulk and then sell at retail for a profit.
Last month Accu Distributing started a LinkedIn Group called “Do It Your Self Entrepreneurship.” It’s an open group, so anyone with a LinkedIn account can join. Helm wants other African-American entrepreneurs to know that they can grow as large as Microsoft.
“We can start something and grow it into something major,” he says.