Eureka! Recession Sparks Inventive Spirit

When the going gets tough, the tough unleash their inner Edisons.

Across the country, in garages, home offices and basement workshops, inventive Americans have been burning the midnight oil, putting the final touches on the prototypes and sketches that they hope will push their homespun products to market.

Spotting opportunity in the depths of the recession, these resourceful men and women are optimistic that through innovation, they can pull themselves -- and the country -- out of the economic decline.

Steve Greenberg

"If you look back, a lot of innovation happens when we have these downturns," said Stephen Key, an inventor himself and founder of InventRight, a company dedicated to educating and supporting inventors just starting out. "It's an interesting time but it's a great time for people who are innovative. You are seeing a lot of people now dusting off these ideas and bringing them to market."

For some, genius struck after they lost a job. For others, the light bulb flashed when they saw that they had a low-cost way to help other cash-strapped consumers.

"I think, generally speaking, recessions have been fertile breeding grounds for inventive minds," said Louis Foreman, creator and executive producer of the PBS reality show "Everyday Edisons."

Foreman is also the founder and chief executive of the Charlotte, N.C.-based product design and engineering firm Enventys. "If you look at history, some of the greatest companies were created out of recessions," he said.

Scotch Tape, Fluorescent Light Bulb and Fortune magazine born in Great Depression

The Great Depression gave birth to Fortune magazine, Scotch Tape, the fluorescent light bulb and Hewlett Packard, he said. Diet Coke was launched during the economic downturn in the early 1980s.

Cheaper resources and labor during a recession can make it easier for entrepreneurs to develop and launch products, he said.

"I'm sure there will be products that launch now [and people will say], 'I can't believe that was launched during the worst economic recession in history'," he said.

Patrick Raymond, president of the United Inventors Association, said he has seen membership in his organization grow about 20 to 25 percent in the past six months.

Inventors Groups See Membership Soar

"When we are in a recession, you end up with more time on your hands," he said, adding that membership is up at both the national and local levels, with about 60 groups across the country supporting local inventors.

"If they've been laid off, if they had a package ... now that you're not working for the man anymore, your ideas and your improvements can be yours," he said.

Adrian Pelkus, president of the San Diego Inventors Forum, confirmed that membership in local groups is booming. Last year, about 40 to 50 people would show up for monthly meetings. Now, he said, that number is closer to 75.

After her private practice started losing clients, April King, an anesthesiologist and member of the San Diego Inventors Forum, decided to take matters into her own hands.

King, 42, had been working at both Kaiser Permanente and in private practice but, in recent months, fewer private clients had been seeking her services.

'It's a Perfect Time for an Entrepreneu'r

"That's pretty much dried up," she said. "A lot of people aren't paying large sums of money to have plastic surgery now."

So she struck out on her own, using her savings and financial support from family and friends to launch her own product.

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