Mark Harris and Dana Askew-Harris, of St. Jacob, had a good time at the Cardinals baseball game July 6. Not only did the home team win, so did they.
"Saturday was a great day," said Mark, 49. "We were selling iSuckers to everyone around us."
The iSucker, a hard plastic ball-shaped suction device, has a flat side that attaches to the back of an iPad or tablet, making the small computers easy to hold.
It's their invention.
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The iSucker comes in 44 colors, and costs between $16 and $20. Want a white one with red baseball seams? It's $18.
That's the style Donna Jeffers bought.
The baseball fan from Lyons, Ind., has had an iPad less than a year, but noticed her wrists tire when she holds them in one position.
"I play a lot of games and I use (the iPad) for Facebook to keep connected," said Donna, 54. "The (iSucker) weight is distributed well, and I found it at a Cards baseball game. It doesn't get much better than that."
Mark and Dana came up with the idea in January 2012, after he was laid off his antiterrorism and disaster-preparedness job.
"I love technology," Mark said. "One of the problems with the iPad is that it's heavy and hard to hold. I read a lot. I said to Dana, 'There needs to be an easier way to hold this.'"
He couldn't find anything on the market.
His wife challenged him to invent a way to cradle the computer in his hand.
"He's always trying to think of better ways to do stuff," said Dana. "We threw around some ideas."
They had computer-aided design (CAD) made and began the patent process with Thompson Coburn, a St. Louis law firm, before searching worldwide for a company to make the iSucker.
They found Specialty Plastics Inc. an injection molding company in St. Peters, Mo., where they worked with sales manager Tom Rowe.
"To find Tom was to find a needle in a haystack," said Dana. "He knows what plastics work best, likes what he does and cares."
Full steam ahead
By August 2012, Mark and Dana had a prototype.
"Having tooling made is more expensive than you would think," said Mark, who has a manufacturing background. "Just to make the tooling was close to $50,000."
Dana took a chance and sunk her savings into their invention. Mark and Dana know all about taking chances.
They met four years ago on an Internet dating site and married in April 2010. Originally from Los Angeles, Mark moved to Highland in 1989 for a job at McDonnell-Douglas. Dana, whose husband David Askew Jr. died 10 years ago, has lived in St. Jacob all her life. Together, they had a car touch-up and repair business (Midwest Touch Up Plus Inc.). She has a grown son and daughter. Mark, who had been divorced, has three sons, the youngest about to start his last year of high school.
"When they are around, they will help us," he said.
To market, to market
The iSucker name stuck from the start.
"It was catchy," said Mark. "People will remember it. Its name is about what it does. It sucks to the back of the iPad."
They had their first iSucker by fall.
"It was pretty much what we were looking for," Mark said.
But the process was five times more expensive and took five times longer than they thought it would.
"It was sort of like when you are expecting a child," he said. "Nine months takes forever. It was that kind of thing."
They couldn't wait to show off -- and sell -- their "baby."
It's on Facebook and at isucker.com
They had a kiosk at The Galleria during December, tag-teaming at the mall 12 to 14 hours a day.
"People were curious and supportive," said Mark. "They liked that it was a St. Louis-made product. We made a conscious decision to make it in the St. Louis area."
"We box it for shipment right here." said Dana. "It's taken over the basement and garage."
In January, they brought the iSucker to the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The show is billed the largest in the world.
"There were probably 10,000 people," said Mark, whose booth was on entrepreneurs' row.
They were fortunate to connect with Steve Greenberg, known as "The Innovation Insider." He travels the country looking for innovative products, has a Web site and appears on TV shows such as "Today." He liked their iSucker.
Here's what Greenberg had to say:
"iSucker--crazy name, cool product.Can't find a comfortable way to hold your tablet?iSucker is the solution. The iSucker uses a proven suction technology that secures to the back of your iPad or tablet making it easier to hold in your hands, rotate and share information with others. ... When using the iSucker the weight of the device ergonomicallycradlesin thepalm ofyour hand, leaving your other hand free to swipe and type. It is the easiest way to hold your iPad or tablet."
Mark estimates there are 1,500 iSuckers in the world today, including samples they've given away.
He and Dana want to increase that number.
"We take a dozen everywhere we go. We will carry a backpack. People ask, 'What is it? Where do we get one?'"
If you don't run into Mark and Dana, look for the iSucker at CPR Cell Phone Repair (103A Frey Lane, Fairview Heights), at Jan's Hallmark stores, and Gifts For Individuals, 702 E Highway 50, O'Fallon. Or buy it online at www.isucker.com and through amazon.com. It costs between $15.95 and $19.95, depending on the style you choose.
Do Mark and Dana have other ideas?
"Our minds are firing all the time," said Dana. "It's fun, but mine goes back to that tooling cost."