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Pasco man hopes crowdfunding will launch his tool for breaking the window of a sinking car

NEW PORT RICHEY — George Strickland and his brother were chatting on the phone one night, and they got to talking about the news.

A woman in Brandon had drowned after she accidentally drove into a lake back in February 2015, and Strickland wondered if her death could have been prevented.

Did she have a hammer to break open her window? Could she find it in the dark of night? In far less trying circumstances and in broad daylight, he thought, he'd struggled to find things in his glove box and console.

Someone ought to make a hammer that's easier to find, he thought aloud. Maybe it could hang from the rearview mirror, his brother suggested.

A year later, Strickland has designed one.

"If you're conscious, you know where your rearview mirror is, and you know you can snatch it and get it off there, even if you're upside down," Strickland, 65, said.

He drew up plans for a hammer shaped like a cross with metal tips on each end and a seat belt cutter at its base. Lots of people have crosses on their mirrors, after all, and he figures customers might pay a few dollars extra to add a charm — a metal disc bearing the image of a guardian angel or a favorite sports team, or a symbol for teachers or paramedics.

He worked with a friend to make prototypes with different designs and materials. He took them to a junkyard to smash car windows to make sure they worked. They did.

But Strickland, who works in marketing, isn't ready to take his invention, which he calls the LifeCross, to market. His prototypes were cut from sheets of PVC with metal tips and a blade inserted later, but when he tested the seat belt cutter, it snapped off. The material wasn't strong enough.

He figures if he could have them made in one piece — with molten plastic poured into a mold — it would be more robust. He has found someone who can make a mold for him, but he can't afford the $10,000 or so it'll cost.

So Strickland is turning to a relatively new method of raising money: crowdfunding. He hopes to raise enough to make a mold by starting a fundraising campaign on the website Indiegogo.

Sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo were founded less than a decade ago to help people with ideas more easily find the money they need to bring them to fruition. They have spread wildly in the years since, raising more than $3 billion across hundreds of thousands of projects, the companies say.

But running a successful campaign can be harder than it seems. Depending on the site and the size of the project, it might require well-polished marketing materials, a sleek video and even an advertising effort, said Leigh Lepore, a Denver-based crowdfunding consultant.

Consider the most popular site, Kickstarter: Only 36 percent of all projects reach their funding goals, the company says. In 15 percent of the cases, they don't get a single pledge. (An Indiegogo spokesman declined to provide statistics on its users' success rate.)

Still, crowdfunding — born as a way to help musicians and artists fund their work — gives entrepreneurs a way of financing their products, Lepore said. It's often easier than finding traditional investors, and it's an immediate test of how strong the market is for their inventions.

"This is becoming a viable way to assess demand and raise some capital," Lepore said.

The key, Lepore said, is to be strategic in setting goals. Most campaigns, including Strickland's, only seek between $1,000 and $10,000, but raising bigger amounts usually requires a bigger effort and a more polished image.

Crowdfunding campaigns are something of a numbers game, too. Not everyone who sees a page will chip in, so to hit big goals, entrepreneurs might need to run an ad campaign or hire a public relations firm to drum up interest.

And some factors in crowdfunding success can't be avoided no matter what: The projects that do best, she said, offer products that are especially unusual and solve a problem lots of people have. That is, they need to be distinctive and useful enough for someone to give money months before they can expect anything in return.

A goal like Strickland's $10,000 target, though, ought to be fairly attainable, Lepore said — low enough that some help from family and friends could get him there.

Strickland hopes so.

Ingenuity is an occasional series about people with interesting or creative business ideas. Know of anyone who fits the bill and could be featured in a story? Drop business editor Chris Tisch a line at ctisch@tampabay.com.

Pasco man hopes crowdfunding will launch his tool for breaking the window of a sinking car 04/11/16 [Last modified: Monday, April 11, 2016 8:28am]
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