In this podcast, I’m talking to Yvonne Jane Wright from www.Ecobears.co.uk. Ecobears are soft toy bears made with eco-friendly material that Yvonne makes herself. What I find interesting is how she’s now trying to expand the brand through creating a story book about Ecobears which she is also selling. She’s also looking at other possible options how she can license the brand. Unfortunately, during the interview we had a bad internet connection so there maybe a few bleeps here and there. I have the interview transcribed below as well if you prefer to read it.
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Tara: Hi Yvonne! Thanks for joining me today. Would you mind telling me a little bit about where you’re based and your background experience?
Yvonne: Hi Tara. Thank you very much for having me. Yes, I’m actually based in Catalonia, in northeast Spain. I’ve been here for quite a few years now and Ecobears has been going for quite some time. It started back in 1996 and it was a combination of two passions. I’ve always enjoyed toy making and environment interest as well. And the materials that I’ve used from that moment onwards were mainly recycled natural materials. And the bears have an ethical message
Tara: So did you always sew before you made your first bear?
Yvonne: Well, actually I’ve sewn since I was a kid because my mother refused to buy us a TV. And she was always sewing, she used to make gorgeous clothes, she used to draw patterns and she was always doing things like that so it’s kind of been a natural thing for me to copy. So I was quite interested in soft toys then. I started doing just simple patterns, two pieces of fabric and then sew them together, stuffing them and try to put a little bit of character onto the face and that’s kind of all stayed with me. I don’t think I’ll ever change, I think that’s always going to be a part of my character. And so as time has gone on obviously the toys and things I’ve made improved. And I’ve made lots and lots and lots of mistakes along the way and still do. I think its such fun, the designing aspect I enjoy so much. I think it’s really good.
Tara: So you designed all the patterns and everything as well and then when you make them you use natural materials?
Yvonne: Yes, all the patterns I designed. I have a few basic ones that I kind of should I say formulate ones that I stick to and then I decide to slightly alter the accessories or clothes but yes the majority of the materials are natural and all of the materials that I feel will be appropriate to the actual design depending on what it is but most of the designs are teddy bears and stuff toys.
Tara: It says something on your website that the energy for your sewing machine is solar powered as well.
Yvonne: Well yes, because we’re out in the middle of the Catalonian countryside which is absolutely gorgeous but it’s just totally impractical when it comes to being on grid, so we are off grid. And as I mentioned earlier we had to build a house and the only way that we could get electricity was to use solar energy. So what we’ve done was we’ve installed six solar panels and then all the solar energy from the solar panels goes to certain batteries and then these feed into the house. So the majority of the year we have solar energy which obviously we run our electricity off.
Tara: So that makes it even more eco friendly both the actual bears as well how they are made.
Yvonne: It does. Yes, certainly does.
Tara: So do you make all the Ecobears yourself as well?
Yvonne: Yes, all the bears I’ve made myself. There’s just me in this little workshop and yeah I do all the work myself.
Tara: Did you protect your toy any way? I don’t know how you can protect stuff toys. Can you protect your patents or trademarks or anything like that?
Yvonne: Well in 1999, I trademarked the name and I trademarked the logo and I also I think I did three or four groups for the trademark. And so yes I did trademark teddy bears and stuff toys etc. I haven’t actually looked at the trademark itself but I think I have them somewhere. I’ve got it close at hand. So yeah, I have yes. I’m glad I have actually because I’ll do a Google search and I’ll be surprised and somebody somewhere is thinking its okay to use the name. You’ve got to protect, I think you’ve got to do it these days definitely.
Tara: So how did you first start selling your Ecobears and how did it develop to what you do today?
Yvonne: When I first started doing it, I decided it would be better just to stick to one idea in using the natural materials and it seemed an interesting idea to do character bears. And at that time I was very much involved in the teddy bear world because in around 1996 quite a lot of people, a lot of artists were doing collector’s bears so there were quite a few teddy bear shows going around the country. And I obviously took a look at them and thought this would be a perfect place to start. By showing the Ecobears I could see what people think and hopefully sell some as well. And also it was kind of like finding like minded people at the time. And so I just tapped into that market. Obviously it was a niche market but it was fun as well because you got to travel a little bit.
Tara: So how’s that gone from sort of there to what you do now?
Yvonne: Well it had to change because we moved from the UK. Obviously moving out to Spain and here aren’t so many teddy bear shows if any at all. But I think with the onset of the internet and technology that pretty much helped with the direction I’ve gone in with the Ecobears. So now I sell online. And I also tried to do features in magazines as well that usually brings in interest. And yes it has changed, from shows first, to the online method.
Tara: So you mentioned the magazines as one of your most successful ways of promoting Ecobears. Is that paid advertising or do you get free PR and articles done?
Yvonne: I have managed to get PR articles done. I think if you can pull a story together, whether depending on the angle, depending on the magazine, if its an artistic or teddy bear are environmental or whatever it is I think that works for both parties because you get obviously some free advertising and make a nice story.
Tara: Are there other ways that you promote Ecobears online as well?
Yvonne: I use social media marketing, obviously because I’m living out in the states in Spain it’s one of the best sort of ways for me to get the message out there so through Facebook, it’s amazing. I end up using Facebook if I put one there and somebody might see that and say, “Can you make me a bear like that?” so on Facebook, it works. It just works.
Tara: Did you start out the business yourself or did you take outside investments?
Yvonne: All of it has been funded by myself. Over the years it’s kind of funded itself. I’ve not taken any investment from outside places although I have thought about it and I have looked into it. And sometimes it seems that until you have something to show, people aren’t very interested in funding it. Once you’ve got something to show, they’re more likely to take an interest it’s a bit of like a chicken and egg really. The point of this is that it takes so much time and effort to just add the value, add to the brand. That’s what you do constantly. You constantly build in, adding value to the whole concept. So I spent years I suppose just trying to create something trying to bring it all together. And obviously we’ve got the story now. We’ve got the character bears. We’ve also got a logo, we’ve got a name but it’s up to me to keep building that up. And you do a lot of it on fresh air and what’s that phrase? Sweat equity. There’s a lot of sweat I’m putting up you know what I’m saying is, a heck of lot of it in there. So yeah keep on pushing forward and just keep the belief.
Tara: So is most of your market in the UK or are you selling in Spain as well?
Yvonne: I do sell quite a lot of things locally because as you may have seen on the website I do personalize gifts as well. So I do get quite a lot of local people that say, Can you do me a bear for a new born, can you put a name on it. So I do tap in to that local market. The bears get to see places I don’t. For example, I think there’s one living in the rainforest in Australia. I’ve also done did mascots, I did one for the World Wildlife Fund, and they took that two years ago, So that’s good for the Eco bears profile and that brings in a lot of interest. I’ve done a bear recently that just climbed Kilimanjaro for charity, the Millicamps Charity. So things like that, that all add to the profile.
Tara: I know you first referred to a children’s book about Ecobears, can you tell me a bit about that?
Yvonne: The children’s book started out about twelve years ago, my partner did the writing for that. And it’s taken quite a long time to obviously get it put together and a publisher who is willing to take it on as well. But what I have done is I have it professionally illustrated, so that’s a collaboration between myself, my partner David and also the illustrator who just happens to be the publisher as well, Calvin Innes. The point of the book, it’s a children’s story aged for nine year olds plus and it’s illustrated and it’s very much an environmental story, and it’s very fantastical and it actually starts off a planet, called planet Vynen. I can read you little bits if you want. Do you want me to read it?
Tara: Yes, go on 🙂
Yvonne: It’s exciting and it’s action packed and it has a message for caring for the environment and the protection of Earth’s resources. It starts off, in a far off galaxy, there is a lush and vibrant planet known as Vynen. The rich forest of the planet is home to thousands of exotic species of plants and animals, from the giant hairy mammamoth to the miniature flick beetle. Each of them cared for by the Ecobears. The Ecobears are highly intelligent creatures who watch over plants and animals on planets all across the universe protecting them from harm. They travel vast distances across space, strange worlds with unimaginable forms of life with their only aim being the protection of endangered species whatever they may be. When the evil bear known as Krakkov and Dilus the bear reaper are located on a distant planet the brave ecobears must quickly jump into action. These villains are known well on the planet Vynen and wherever they go trouble quickly follows. Can they protect their planet from certain destruction? Join the ecobears in their first action packed book to find out.
Tara: Very good.
Yvonne: It’s crazy.
Tara: It would make a good animation as well wouldn’t it?
Yvonne: Oh Yes.
Tara: So you’ve got the book. Any plans to create other spin off Ecobear product to license the brand and other things?
Yvonne: That would be absolutely fantastic to be able to do that and that has always been part of the goal, part of the long term plan but obviously I need to do a lot of research. I need to find out more information and maybe get help on that book. I don’t see why not. That would be brilliant.
Tara: So what advice would you give to anyone who’s got a product idea and kind of don’t know what to do?
Yvonne: Stick with it. Absolutely stick with it. And the more work you put into it the better. And just keep that belief, if you believe it’s good then carry on, carry on. Keep knocking at doors, keep pushing forward. And if you’ve got that belief in it, and is unique and is different hen surely you know one day it’s going to work for you definitely.
Tara: So if people want to know a little bit more about you and Ecobears . Where’s the best place for them to go?
Yvonne: There are several places they can find us. We’ve got a website, www.ecobears. co.uk. You can find out more about the book at http://www.mylittlebigtown.com/ecobears. You’ll also find me on Twitter, @ecobears and also on Facebook, we’ve got ecobears and myself, Yvonne Jane Wright in there as well.
Tara: Great. Thank you very much.
In this inventor interview Anthony Migyanka, the inventor of the CLLEEN Water System (waterdesalinationplants.com) talks about how he created a system that could help with the problem of the shortage of clean water in many parts of the World. This interview is available both as a podcast or in written form below.
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Tara: Please could you tell me a little bit about where you are based, your background and how you started inventing?
Anthony: I’m based in Irving, Texas. I majored in chemical engineering at Case Western Reserve University, one of the best engineering schools in the world, then transferred to the University of Pittsburgh, which has the best chemical engineering program in the world (in my humble opinion). I also minored in economics.
While at Pitt, I co-op’d with Betz Laboratories, doing industrial water treatment for steel mills, power plants, virtually all heavy industry. After college, I got a job with Betz (which became Betz-Dearborn, which was later sold to GE and is now GE Water and Process) in New York, in industrial water treatment. I worked on Long Island, four of the five boroughs of Manhattan and Northern New Jersey.
I worked briefly for Calgon Corp in Texas in industrial water treatment as well, but I didn’t have a good experience with them. I left after less than a year and was kind of tired with water treatment. I moved to Dallas and worked in business media, making commercials and corporate videos and investor relations media. I also worked briefly in commercial banking and finance.
But as of 2010, I became interested in water treatment again, with all the shale “boom” talk. It happened sort of coincidentally. I was visiting family in Western PA where I am from (Conemaugh, PA, near Johnstown), and I began researching the acid mine drainage problem.
This is embarrassing to say, but I didn’t know how big of a problem it still is. I knew that Western PA (and elsewhere) has orange rivers, but I didn’t know we have about 600,000 abandoned mines in the US polluting 30,000 stream miles.
I was explaining to my 8-yr-old son why the river we were riding our bikes along was orange. He said, “Dad, you know about science, you should do something about that.”
Then, a friend of mine from college (actually my old ChE lab partner senior year at Pitt), who still works in engineering, asked me to attend a meeting his company was having about the Marcellus shale boom in PA.
I went to listen, and I ended up speaking for about 30 mins about industrial water treatment.
I also took a tour of some of the abandoned coal mines where acid mine drainage pollutes 29 miles of the Little Conemaugh River in PA.
I decided to pursue this full time and I started doing some experiments on the AMD.
Prior to this, while I was still working in finance, I invented a lotion applicator (US Patent #: 7,597,494). I wrote the business plan for manufacturing it, and partnered with a great non-profit research lab, Concurrent Technologies Corp (CTC) to bring it to the market. We are currently applying for an STTR (technology transfer) grant to fund it.
I recently got a letter of interest from AOTA, the American Occupational Therapy Association, the largest organization that would use this product for medical and retail use, with 40,000 members in all 50 states. So we’re including that in our grant proposal and providing it to interested investors.
I received notice of allowance on Oct 6, 2009. I applied in 2007, and got a call Dec 2008, and got notice in 2009. I actually didn’t expect it to be approved that quickly. I am a member of the Texas Inventors Association (TIA), which is a great group I can put you in touch with. It’s all inventors with either working patents, or patents pending, and patent agents and a few patent attorneys. They all told me to expect 4 years for a notice of allowance, so I didn’t really do much to prepare to fund the prototype.
By the way, I’d like to give a shout out to my patent agent, Jeffrey Roddy, of Avviso Associates, who is the best. They initially said they would break my patents into two, but Jeff advised against it, and contested it, and won. It took an additional 9 months, but I have one broad patent, 11 claims.
Tara: Please could you explain what CLLEEN Water System is and how you came up with the idea?
Anthony: I decided I was going to solve the problem of AMD, which is really three problems. Abandoned mines are in the middle of nowhere, have no power handy, and run continuously. So I had to invent a system that could handle at least 150 gallons/minute, could take out the iron and other heavy metals, but return the water to the river. All without power. So I sampled and tested for a few months, and a few things worked pretty well, but it really didn’t solve the problem of actually removing the metals from the premises. I could take them out of the water, but then what to do with them?
So I decided that simply drying them as best as possible (in a brine/slurry/sludge) would work best. It provides the least amount of stuff a mining company (or an environmental group or watershed group) would have to truck away.
Then I found these obscure battery designs that use either solar power, or permanent magnets to run a long time and essentially recharge themselves. What they were using really didn’t work for me so I redesigned the battery pack/charger to that it could be inverted to AC power (the design is actually a trade secret, I’m not filing a patent on this one) and run pumps and the equipment to power the AMD treatment unit.
Once I got that to work, I knew it was a matter of marketing it properly to get business.
Tara: How did you go about developing the system and how did you fund development?
Anthony: All of that testing was self-funded with private loans (very little money) from family and friends. Then Jan, who I have known professionally for a few years, suggested a partnership whereby her company, which has been in the mining business for years and has contacts all over the world, would do sales and marketing, and I would remain the OEM.
Tara: Did you file a patent application or protect your IP in other ways?
Anthony: The internals of the chamber that actually treats the water are an improvement in Multi-Stage Flash (MSF) distillation, which is basically evaporating the water. Pure H2O is recovered as condensate and the junk stays in a brine/slurry sludge which is shipped to a landfill or further treated elsewhere.
I am keeping them and the battery/charger as trade secrets, so my company follows all of the rules (having vendors, employees, associates, sign non-disclosure/non-compete/non-circumvention agreements, etc), and leasing the technology, rather than selling it outright, so that we are protected under the US Economic Espionage Act of 1996.
Since we are working in virtually every country in the world, we feel better protected by the US Justice Department, rather than filing a patent and have people circumvent it, if not steal it outright and spend years in court fighting over the patent.
With this way, we simply don’t tell anyone the secret sauce. And the US Justice Department has had many successful prosecutions worldwide for trade secret violations.
Even though I am a patent holder for another product, filing a patent in many circumstances is simply giving the blueprints to the Chinese or other countries that don’t respect intellectual property rights and daring them to undercut you on price because of their cheap labor.
I was able to design the system so that it a 200 gallon/minute unit can fit on an 8′ X 8′ X 40′ long trailer (which is the perfect size for a tractor-trailer for mobile units on mine sites and oil and gas drilling sites) and a smaller version: 8′ X 8′ X 20′, which is within the US Navy spec for ships and Marines mobile units. By the way, we have an upcoming proof-of-concept demonstration with the Navy to replace their reverse osmosis (RO) units for both shipboard and mobile units, as their increased missions in littoral environments is really diminishing the capacity of RO, and basically, as Yale University as recently said in a report on water treatment, that RO is at a dead end of sorts. They are about as efficient as they’re going to be. They are at about 60% conversion, meaning for every 100 gallons of salt water they treat, they get 60 gallons of fresh water, and 40 gallons of brine, which isn’t too great. Ours does 70-100% conversion, depending on the customer.
Tara: What are some of the applications that CLLEEN Water is currently being used for and what are it’s future possible uses?
Anthony: AMD, frac water, wastewater (sewage and other industrial wastewater) and seawater desalination.
We just partnered with Quantum-ionics of California, which is the world leader in ElectroCoagulation, to treat AMD, industrial wastewaters, and septage.
Qi has a neat process. They hit the water with a small electrical charge that coagulates the junk into big particles that can be easily filtered. Not only that, but the EC also converts heavy metals to their “Earth-friendly” oxide forms, which means that the sludge goes from hazardous waste to non-hazardous, which means you can put it on your lawn, your garden, or any other fertilizer application. (Which has been tested and approved by the State of California and EPA tests).
Then, we (CLLEEN) treat the remaining water (evaporating it) and recover pure H2O, which is now potable (drinkable) water again.
So it opened a whole new world of opportunity. In fact, we are now designing a wastewater treatment plant for an island nation to not only treat their residential sewage, but to return clean drinking water to them. There was a recent piece on CNN about the “toilet-to-tap” market in California and Texas, because of the desperate water situations in these places.
With Qi, we are designing a small residential module, so maybe one day every home will recycle all their water. In fact, California has spent a bit of money preparing a report on this very topic. It’s not ready yet, but maybe 5 or 10 years down the road, people will be ready to accept this technology into their lives.
I started all this to treat AMD, and frac water, thinking we’d just be a vendor to the shale boom, and thanks to Jan and Australia Global Trading, she has opened two trillion-dollar markets to us: seawater desalination and septage treatment.
We have interest for desalination, AMD and septage treatment from:
- South Africa
and many more. And Qi has really taken the lead on AMD and industrial applications. They even want to open the agricultural market for our hybrid Qi-CLLEEN units, for treatment of animal waste, animal fats, and other farming water issues.
Tara: How are you promoting and building awareness of the CLLEEN Water System?
Anthony: Australia Global Trading has done the marketing for us, through our website, waterdesalinationplants.com, LinkedIn, press releases, Twitter (@CLLEENWater), Facebook, and other web outlets.
We’re actually getting more traffic querying us. Rather than seeking out the business, it is seeking us out, which is a blessing. I’ve been on the other side of that equation, and this side is much better.
And we’ve only had the website up for a few weeks.
Thanks to Jan, and Skype, we’ve discussed projects with people all over the world.
Qi is also promoting CLLEEN as part of their Vertical Ionic Acceleration (VIA) System to their hundreds of industrial and agricultural clients worldwide.
Tara: Is there anything you learned developing Clleen Water System that you would now do differently if you had to do it all again?
Anthony: I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life, even while working a 9-5, and I’ve had a few successes, and a few miserable failures, and one catastrophic failure where I lost virtually everything.
And I have learned from all of them. What I have learned most is, don’t develop something you like, develop something that has a crazy, insane, must-have, need-it-now demand in a market somewhere. It’s hard to tell where that demand is sometimes, but it’s out there if you look.
Once I toured the PA AMD sites, and certain private companies and government organizations told me, we’d hire you today if you had the answer, I knew I’d found the right market.
If you have a paying customer before you have a product, your life is going to be fun.
Other business ventures were things I thought that, once I develop them with lots of money and time, people will “get” it, and I’ll get business with them. And I realized that there is a ticking clock on start-ups, and that there is no such thing as lots of time and money in a start-up.
So, when I started this, I knew the frac water treatment was a crazy, need-it-now demand kind of thing, but I didn’t realize that seawater desalination was an even more desperate market for new products, and is literally a trillion-dollar market worldwide.
So that was kind of a happy accident.
Tara: What advice would you give any aspiring inventor with an idea?
Anthony: Lots of advice. The neat thing is that every inventor, in my opinion, is wired the same. We were all inventing things our whole lives, even if most inventions didn’t amount to much.
My advice is, if you are filing a patent (which works in many cases, especially if you want to license it to a big company and sit back and collect “mailbox money” which many successful patent holders do), get with an inventors association. Make friends who have working patents and who are working through the process. Talk to attorneys and agents who have licensed deals for inventors. Get advice from people “in the know.”
Ask a million questions to a million experienced people. (Direct experience is the key).
I learned more about the patent licensing business in two months with the inventors association than I did in 4 years of college and 20 years of working.
It is a long road, but a satisfying destination. I have a thousand cliches, but my favorite is “Heavy lies the crown.” As an inventor working through the process of getting a prototype built and in the market and making money is a long row to hoe. It is excruciatingly painful at times, and abject failure lurks around every corner like impending doom. And many days you will question what the hell you were thinking. Having friends in the same boat is very comforting, and helpful. Everyone in our inventors association is sort of cheering for each other.
Find someone who knows something about business, meet a SCORE.org counselor (I have) to get business plan advice. Write a business plan, shop it. Get ready to hear no a trillion times, learn about your investor market (which kind of investors invest in which deals) and KEEP LEARNING AT ALL TIMES.
You won’t get a real estate investor to invest in a TV show (I know this from personal experience) because there is no real estate involved, so the deal is way out of his comfort zone. You will not get a film investor to invest in real estate, because that piece of land just sitting there scares them to death.
So find people whose investment comfort zone is in your market. It will save you lots of time and frustration, I promise.
Get people to help you. Somewhere there is an investment banker, or an aspiring investment banker that wants only to put together the deal for you. Let them work for you.
And DON’T EVER take anything a venture capitalist says seriously. They got an MBA precisely so they wouldn’t ever have to work, so they could just sit around and trade paper. 99% know nothing about business, they are guessing at it just like you are.
And no matter how strong the urge, do not strangle them.
My other favorite saying is from Napoleon Bonaparte: “If you start to take Vienna, take Vienna.” See it through to its conclusion. It’s worth it.
Tara: Where can people find out more about you and the Clleen Water System?
CLLEEN.com is our placeholder site, but waterdesalinationplants.com is the informative website.
If you enjoyed this interview you can find more here.
Are you an inventor or invention expert with an interesting story or advice to share? Please get in touch via the contact form or email tara (at) ideasuploaded (dot) com