Reducing Our Risk

Organization: 
ColterDurham

StowCart

Entry Overview

Hazard: During evacuation events, people struggle to evacuate quickly and carry sufficient survival gear; and once evacuated, it's very hard to maintain reasonable mobility while carrying heavy items by hand (and very few people plan for resupply). Even just 72-hours worth of survival gear (especially water) is too heavy to carry in a backpack or by hand—and mobility with your gear is key to safety. Additionally, most people are cost sensitive to something that they will only use for an emergency. Emergency preparedness solutions need to be functional for many different uses/tasks and also perform well in emergencies.

Solution: I designed the StowCart as a solution to this problem. One StowCart can carry over 200 lb in a 10,000 cubic inch space and converts from an upright storage device (when not in use) to a sturdy handcart with 7" ground clearance (when mobilization is needed). When loading heavy items such as water containers, lift-assist mechanics offers nearly 10-to-1 leverage for safer, easier use.

Actions implemented: I designed the product, created a startup company around it, created a functioning full-scale prototype, filed a patent application, and are in the process of finding funding for manufacturing so we can launch it in emergency preparedness / emergency response marketplace.

General Info
Ryon
Brown
Email : 
ryon@colterdurham.com
Organization Address: 
637 Loma Cedro Bend
Leander, Texas 78641
United States
Problem
Population Impacted: 
1,000,000 per year
Hazard: 
Flooding
Identify the likelihood and frequency of this hazard : 
(StowCart is a multi-hazard solution) Floods are high frequency events. They typically happen near coastal areas and near inland watersheds; both of which are usually high-population areas. Disasters in those locations are typically exceptionally costly in terms of loss of life and property. 50-61% of all deaths from natural disasters are from flooding due to severe storms: http://www.preventionweb.net/english/countries/statistics/?cid=185
Explain how vulnerable the community is to this hazard: 
(StowCart is a multi-hazard solution) Flooding can be the result of several natural disaster types (even wildfires can lead to landslides and flooding due to the loss of vegetation, earthquakes can lead to tsunamis, etc)
List the potential affects of this hazard: 
1) Loss of life 2) Loss of property 3) disruption to normal life 4) economic disruption 5) environmental damage 6) extreme cost (averaging nearly .2% of GDP today). Note: lack of safe fresh water following a disaster (ie, exposure to contaminated water) can lead to as many—or more—deaths than those caused directly by the natural disaster itself (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/world/americas/un-struggles-to-stem-haiti-cholera-epidemic.html?_r=0)
Identify how sensitive the community is to these affects: 
Extremely sensitive. Evacuation events due to flooding can happen in small pockets due to a simple clogged drainage systems or water main break — or over vast areas due to heavy rainfall or hurricane storm surge.
Action
Preparedness Goal: 
To increase the speed and range that a family-sized group can flee to safety in an emergency situation
Implementing Actions: 

I participated in a local "Great Shake Out" earthquake preparedness program in April of 2012. At that same time, my wife and I discovered that we were expecting twin boys. I was struck with the realization that I would not be able to rapidly leave our neighborhood in an emergency with my family *and* our emergency supplies. That week, I started designing the StowCart. At first it was hand drawings on paper, then 2D drawings on my computer, then physical prototypes in my garage made out of pressed fiber board, wooden dowels, plywood, and duct tape.

Garage and StowCart Prototype

After nearly two years, a patent application, several prototypes and over 20 major design iterations, we finally have what some call a minimum viable product (MVP). This MVP is a full-sized, functioning aluminum prototype. The prototype works great. I used it to haul a couple hundred pounds of sod in my neighborhood. I also pulled my wife and daughter up and down hills around the park near our home (as a means of conducting informal testing). Unexectedly, most of my neighbors want one to take their kids on walks with. This was exciting for me because I wanted to make something that was helpful for many tasks and could be used often (not just for emergency response).

StowCart Aluminum MVP

The work was starting to pay of. As of November 2013 we were really close to a "retail-ready" product. The challenge I faced next was knowing how to get it made in large numbers, raising some capital, and getting it in to the hands of people. At that time I knew nothing about any of that. I knew I needed a rapid education so I applied to the Technology Commercialization Master's program at the University of Texas. To my total shock, was accepted! I was also very lucky once I started the program because I was able to use the StowCart in several of our group projects in class, including a marketing plan and a business plan assignment. At the end of fall semester, we actually won the semi finals and came in second place in the final competition in a business plan competition with my piers in the program. After the competition, one of my professors told me that I was "in love with my product". I responded that I'm actually in love with solving the problem. 

 

StowCart 1.0Myself and a small group of students are heading to Atlanta in February to compete in the Georgia Tech "Georgia Bowl" business plan competition. The goal of that competition is to improve our pitch and presentation skills, spread awareness about the product, meet people, and hopefully win the competition. There is a small cash prize that we desperately need to help pay for manufacturing our first 10 for testing. The design is greatly improved from the aluminum prototype and had advanced to a stage that requires me to move this project out of my garage and into the world.

When conducting end-user research, it was abundently clear that future customers did not want to buy a device that was ONLY for emergencies. For that reason, I designed the StowCart to be the optimal egress device for emergencies and also a great multi-purpose hauling device for home & garden, outdoor recreation, small-scale farming, and more.

 

 

Solution
Describe Your Solution: 

Through my experiences while serving eight years in the U.S. Coast Guard, I saw a serious problem with the way people are affected by natural disasters. If people have any survival gear at all, it’s usually not adequate; and those who have adequate supplies are typically unable to travel any significant distance with them due to the weight. Out of 147 people polled, 100 of them felt they are not adequately prepared for an emergency and are actively making purchase decisions. Out of that same poll, 124 of 147 people thought that the StowCart was a 9-our-of-10 solution to their problem for storing and carrying supplies (especially water) in an emergency that required an evacuation.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends every member of a household have a 72-hour survival kit ready for a rapid evacuation (these are typically commercially available in school-type backpacks). Interestingly, the reason the government started recommending three-day survival kits is NOT because natural disasters only affect us for three days, it's because the average adult cannot safely carry more than a three-day supply on their back for any significant length of time or distance. Since WWI, emergency preparedness thinking has not evolved much beyond the backpack. Even a “deluxe” 72-hour backpack from a major retailer is better than nothing, but does not include the full recommended amount of water (again, due to the weight and bulk). FEMA also recommends 1-1.5 gallons of water per person, per day, for at least three days. The weight of this amount of water for a family of four is over 150 lb. Additionally, the chaos, confusion, and emotions experienced during an evacuation event make it very difficult to safely and effectively perform complex tasks such as gathering supplies—and you rarely have the time to do so. This is the primary pain I'm trying to resolve. I believe that one solution for storage and rapid mobilization is key. The StowCart allows storage and rapid mobilization of up to 200 lb of emergency supplies/water by one adult. It is a multi-purpose storage device that mechanically converts into a handcart. Ground-level loading and a breakaway handle allow cargo to be placed directly on the base at ground level with 180º unobstructed loading (for rapid load-unload). When converting from loading mode to cart mode, the arrangement of handle, fulcrum and wheels work together when the handle is lifted to generate a 10-to-1 lift advantage which we call lift-assist mechanics (for reducing risk of back injuries). These features and functionalities are unique and differentiate the StowCart from competing products/methods. Additionally, 4-point ground contact during the lift-assist maneuver makes a very stable load-lifting experience for users (as opposed to a wheelbarrow or dolly, for example).

The StowCart is also designed to be stored and operated in small spaces. It easily fits through a standard 31” doorway and in extreme cases, it can be operated up and down stairs. The device has a dry weight of 50 lb and is fabricated with tube steel, aluminum, rust-proof hardware, and an HDPE or ABS plastic deck plate for the non-skid floor of the flatbed. It uses high-payload, 16” flat-proof wheels to allow 7.5” clearance and reliable travel over rough terrain. The utility of the StowCart can be enhanced by several custom accessory kits—which are being designed for specific loads, uses, or terrains (e.g., yard bucket, security box/utility, pet carrier, and general multi-load with tie downs). The StowCart converts into three distinct modes that aid in the functions of storing it, loading it, and moving your stuff with it. 

Results
Economic?: 

The full economic impact of this product is not yet known but I have reached out to state emergency management officers in Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Georgia and Florida and have heard very consistently that this would help people be more prepared, more self-sufficient, and therefore it would save state and federal tax payer money in response efforts. Specifically, officials in Florida were very enthusiastic about the StowCart for its ability to increase the range that people can safely travel with their supplies in tow (especially heavier items such as fresh water). They referred to it as a "boon to whatever company creates it and brings it to market". 

During my time in the Coast Guard, we frequently noted that it would likely be cheaper by a factor of 10 if individuals, communities and government institutions invested more in preparedness and prevention as opposed to spending on response and recovery. I believe this to be true when you see National Guard helicopters delivering pallets of bottled water to people after a natural disaster. It would be fairly easy to study the costs and justify buying ruggedized freshwater storage systems and StowCarts fully loaded with food, water, and basic fist aid. Indeed, my mentors on this project believe that this product may "disrupt" personal preparedness and light-duty mobility (and home & garden, and general utility hauling, and small farm hauling, and outdoor recreation hauling...)

It is easily demonstrated that the StowCart enables one adult to perform the loading, moving, and unloading tasks much better that the same tasks using 2-4 adults using traditional means (or by hand). In many industries this would help with cost savings. The StowCart is also designed ergonomically to help prevent back injuries associated with lifting. Muscular-skeletal injuries from improper lifting are extremely expensive to all industries: "Although back injuries account for no work-related deaths, they do account for a significant amount of human suffering, loss of productivity, and economic burden on compensation systems. Back disorders are one of the leading causes of disability for people in their working years and afflict over 600,000 employees each year with a cost of about $50 billion annually in 1991 according to NIOSH. The frequency and economic impact of back injuries and disorders on the work force are expected to increase over the next several decades as the average age of the work force increases and medical costs go up..."(https://www.osha.gov/dts/osta/otm/otm_vii/otm_vii_1.html)

Environmental?: 

Environmental results or impact is difficult to quantify for this product because it has not been manufactured yet. I can comment on a few possible areas:

All the components used in creating the StowCart have been specifically selected for their ubiquity, ease of manufacturing, and recyclability.

New manufacturing facilities would not be needed to make the StowCart (existing manufacturing infrastructure is sufficient for sourcing all components).

·       StowCart: 90% stainless steel and aluminum

·       Wheels: steel and HDPE (high-density polyethylene)

·       Hardware: stainless steel

·       Load base cover: HDPE (high-density polyethylene)

The StowCart performs tasks that may reduce the use of combustion engines (small engines) such as ATVs or light trucks for hauling things short distances such as on a small farm or construction projects. 

The StowCart allows one adult to load, haul, and unload over 200 lb of gear safely. Anytime one person can perform a job that used to require two people, the carbon footprint of that activity is reduced (fewer people traveling to a job site, etc).

Some business models are more environmentally friendly than others. For example, direct sales over the Internet from several dispersed distribution centers involve fewer "touches" by shipping/transportation vehicles. Even better are models where the product can be "drop shipped" directly from the manufacturer to the end user via an integrated inventory control system—this can greatly reduce the amount of moving the inventory to-and-from multiple locations. 

Social?: 

A self-sufficient society is a stronger, more secure society. “The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land.” —Abraham Lincoln

I've always been drawn to tools. I think there is something profound and meaningful about a the relationship between craftsman/farmer/laborer and his/her tools. I think about when the US was made up of dispersed small farms and homesteads; I think about the tools used to work the land and collect harvests; those tools were critically important to a family, community and society—even a matter of life and death. Those tools were cared for with great respect and were highly valued. I think we've lost some of that in the modern age. I'm not saying that the StowCart perfectly fits in that category of tool but over the past two years I've used modified StowCarts to do a lot of DIY work that otherwise would have required a small tractor or 3-4 more people (neither were available). It was tremendously fulfulling to create something that makes tasks easier. 

Greater self sufficiency, longevity and vitality for the current generation of aging baby boomers would be a great thing to contribute to. Jim and Rose, a retired couple, frequent the same coffee shop as I. They are the nicest people you'll ever meet and you'd be lucky to have them as neighbors. I've gotten to know them and they've gotten to know me and my projects. Rose believes the StowCart will help her do more gardening and landscaping than she currently can do due to difficulty lifting and moving heavier objects. She believes that everyone in her neighborhood (mostly retired folks) would each buy one. 

I hope so. 

 

 

 

What were the negative or unintended impacts (if any) associated with implementing this solution? : 

I can't think if any negative impacts from the StowCart. I suppose it could be a failure that no one will buy—in that case I will have wasted a lot of duct tape, cardboard and plywood working through those prototypes! So far it seems that a lot of people like it and want to buy it. I just have to take the risks, make the best decisions I can, and press forward.

I'm trying very hard to only work with manufacturers, supplier, and OEMs that follow sustainable practices and operated within appropriate legal, safety, environmental and otherwise socially responsible boundaries. I think it's a very healthy exercise to continually ask oneself "what are the possible negative impacts of _______."

Replication/Scale
Return on Investment: How much did it cost to implement these activities? How do your results above compare to this investment?: 

I can't discuss exact numbers of my manufacturing costs in this forum but I'd be happy to discuss details one-on-one. So far I've pursued this product using only my own resources.

I won semi-finals at business plan competition at University of Texas early December 2014 (and won second place in the finals). Without divulging anything proprietary, I can say that the margins and projections are pretty decent due to a more efficient, manufacturing-friendly design. My cost and spending structure follows a typical manufacturing business model:

Revenue Structure Industry Standard
Revenue 100%
Sales and Marketing 15%
Manufacturing 40%
COGS 40%
Profit 5%

I just need to raise enough money to be able to manufacture at scale. I have all the data to show how much I would need for years 1-3. I can provide that upon request.

What are the main factors needed to successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?: 

The main factor right now is capital. I have identified several manufacturers who could produce the StowCart. Other than capital, I'll need strategic partnerships with channel access to the first wave customer. The Ready Store has shown some interest and has even estimated how many they would typically sell.

 

Here are some other risks that I've identified that I would need to mitigate or remove to successfully launch and maintain a viable operation:

Intellectual Property:

  • Despite patent application and PCT filing, product is vulnerable to copying
  • A small number of infringement products sold would not be worth our time and money to litigate
  • To defeat competition, we would need to launch at a large scale with an aggressive marketing campaign

First-to-market

  • Relationships are still new and limited—we’re relatively unknown
  • Market needs to be shown that current methods/offerings are grossly inadequate for certain tasks and the StowCart has value that exceeds the purchase price.

Manufacturing costs/logistics for scale

  • Margins for small runs are slim-to-none
  • Planning for manufacturing in proximity to POS
  • Not all manufacturers will drop ship

Expertise needed*:

  • Multi-channel marketing
  • Financing/structuring for a single product startup that has other products in earlier stages (do I outlicense, etc)
  • Multi-national manufacturing management
  • Previous product-based startup launch planning and execution expertise

*I'm learning how to do all of these things from a top business school but I would rather work with someone who has done it before several times in the real world and understands the practical strategies and tactics needed.

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Contest Name: 
Reducing Our Risk

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