In our occasional series “Upstarts,” we profile Wyoming entrepreneurs. Today we take you to Teton County where we meet an entrepreneur who has invented a way to improve your water bottle. Wyoming Public Radio's Rebecca Huntington has more.
REBECCA HUNTINGTON: Like lots of inventions, Steve Kitto's started with a problem that needed fixing.
STEVE KITTO: I was driving down the road from my house, which is pretty bumpy, but my lid from my water bottle came off and went under my gas pedal. And I immediately thought, 'Why can't I stick a magnet to the lid and make it stick to the side of the bottle.'
HUNTINGTON: So the 45-year-old investor did a little research and discovered that if you did that, you’d have to use a kind of steel that would corrode when coming in contact with your juice or water. You have to add nickel to stainless steel that's going to store beverages. But that also creates a problem.
KITTO: When you add nickel to stainless on an atomic level it actually tweaks the atoms in the steel. It also deflects a magnet.
HUNTINGTON: But that didn't deflect his interest in the idea.
MARY KITTO: Kitto just started taking apart all of our water bottles.
HUNTINGTON: That's Steve's wife, Mary. She's a fifth-grade teacher at the Wilson Elementary School. She says the water bottles eventually returned home, but with a new twist.
MARY KITTO: One day he came in and he had done a really rough prototype where he'd taken the lid and added a magnet and, he came and he showed it and said, "Well, what do you think?"
HUNTINGTON: That's a loaded question in a household where ideas for new inventions come up so often the couple jokes about the idea "du jour."
MARY KITTO: I tend to knock him down right away, like 'No. No. No,' because it's every day so (laugh). But I like the water bottle, and so he made one for me to start using.
HUNTINGTON: But he told her she couldn't leave the house with it. He wanted to keep the idea secret.
KITTO: I started the patent process many years ago, and I didn't talk about it very much. I didn't talk about it at all actually.
HUNTINGTON: Kitto used to hand craft furniture. Now he drives over Teton Pass every day to get from his home in Wilson, Wyoming to his shop in Victor, Idaho. He's using a saw to make display signs for his water bottles. His shop has become a warehouse and office for his new business called Liquid Hardware. Old prototypes litter a drafting table that once belonged to his father.
KITTO: Being a custom furniture-maker, I'm always thinking of solutions to problems, and how to make something better.
HUNTINGTON: And he wanted a better water bottle so this is what he did.
KITTO: We're internationally patent pending for adding a ferromagnetic piece of stainless to the outside of the bottle and then adding a rare earth magnet in the lid, that's embedded.
HUNTINGTON: So how does that make your water bottle better?
KITTO: And the two together create an invisible tether for your lid. It's nice
you don't have to set your lid down if you're at work, or filling it up, or drying it by the side of the sink. It has a lot of really great uses and once people start using these they wonder what they did before.
HUNTINGTON: Kitto was able to turn his innovation into a business thanks, in part, to the Internet. About a year ago, he launched a campaign on the
Kickstarter website where anyone can pitch an idea to potential investors. He attracted all kinds of small-time hobby investors, including some international ones. Altogether, they pledged more than $10,000 in exchange for getting the first water bottles manufactured.
KITTO: Kickstarter was a great way to really market test and see what kind of response I was going to get.
HUNTINGTON: After Kickstarter, Kitto was approached by a manufacturer, who makes products for such big name companies as Apple, GM, GE, and Toyota. Based in China, that company is now making his Liquid Hardware bottles. He wanted to have the bottles made in the U.S. but the bids he got were too high.
KITTO: It was going to be about $120, without a lid.
HUNTINGTON: That’s per bottle. In contrast the bottles made in China retail for less than $25 each.
KITTO: It's going to go out Fed Ex today.
HUNTINGTON: He's already sold more than 3,000 bottles and caught the attention of retailers such as South Korea Patagonia, which recently featured his product at a trade show in Seoul.
HUNTINGTON: Despite that success, he's still tinkering with his design.
KITTO: I went to the doctor's the other day, and I handed them my Blue Cross Medical Card, and part of the upper right section is cut out. And she asked me what that was all about, and I said, 'Well, I needed a piece of plastic for my water bottle invention.'
HUNTINGTON: Already, Liquid Hardware is gearing up to produce new vacuum-insulated bottles that will keep hot liquids hot and cold ones cold. Kitto is always inventing, something his wife is obviously well aware of…
MARY KITTO: It can be maddening just because it never stops. He's always got an idea, and it's not a typical eight-hour workday. He's not allowed to play with water bottles after 10 'o clock... just because you can hear the tink, tink, tink of the magnet all night long.
For Wyoming Public Radio, I'm Rebecca Huntington in Jackson.