One day last November, Thaddeus Alemao was a little too nervous to ask friends to come with him to his hometown Bed, Bath & Beyond. But pride kicked in when he spotted a woman looking over a new kitchen product, an odor-absorbing splatter screen. "I invented that," he told the woman, who had already decided to buy one.
"I believe I have no words to express that feeling," he said of seeing his invention in a store for the first time.
Alemao, 58, a commissioned broker with a mortgage refinancing firm and also a longtime tinkerer who lives in Oceanside, is one of 12 "garage inventors" to strike deals with Lifetime Brands Inc., the Garden City-based developer and marketer of food preparation products. The company's "open innovation" initiative has been in place about two years, and has drawn some 2,000 invention submissions.
"There are 300 million people in the United States," said Dan Siegel, executive vice president for corporate innovation strategies. All of them eat, many of them cook and have great ideas for products. "We've opened up the door and are soliciting those ideas."
All 12 products that have come from outside inventors will be showcased at the International Home & Housewares Show for retailers starting Sunday in Chicago - along with 1,300 new or redesigned products from the company's own staff. Would-be inventors can fill in a questionnaire at Monasheemarketing.com, the site run by Warren Tuttle, the company's external product development consultant and president of the United Inventors Association.
Once it accepts a product idea, the Lifetime Brands team works on further design and development. Inventors, who patent the products in their own names, get a small advance on a royalty of 2 to 7 percent of sales, said Siegel. Plus, they're free to take the product elsewhere if sales fall below a certain amount.
In the case of Alemao's splatter screen, sold under the Farberware, DFL and Pedrini brands, the company included information on the packaging about Safe Water Source, his nonprofit aimed at bringing fresh drinking water to Africa, to which he is earmarking some of his royalties.
The seed idea for the splatter screen - which sits on top of a frying pan, containing splatter and absorbing odors - came years ago when he ran a leather store and made athletic gym bags with odor-absorbing material. Alemao, who was born in the Indian state of Goa, said his mind has always been questioning and cranking out ideas. "When I was a small kid I was wondering how the leaves were made," he said.