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Florida, Tampa Bay area dominate Walmart's entrepreneur contest

Ten would-be entrepreneurs have been named finalists in Walmart's American Idol-like "Get on the Shelf" competition, including five from Florida and three from the Tampa Bay area.

The bay area no doubt put up such a strong showing because of its reputation as an epicenter of infomercial producers and gadget makers dating from the launch of HSN in Clearwater in the 1980s.

Culled from 4,300 entries trying to win prize money and get their products sold by the world's largest retailer, the 10 finalists are in a showdown for text-message or online votes at getontheshelf.com beginning Wednesday through April 24.

Finalists ranged from the Bill of Rights inscribed on a charm bracelet to bottled water with some of the profits donated to clean water initiatives in developing countries.

Walmart did not release the vote tallies, so here are the Tampa Bay finalists in alphabetical order:

• Snapit Eyeglass Repair. That's a glasses repair kit outfitted with a new type of longer threaded screw that's supposed to be much easier to handle when a lens falls out or a temple comes unhinged. The product was invented by Nancy Tedeschi, a Wenatchee, Wash., resident who lives in Clearwater half the year.

•Sola-Bag Forever refrigerator cooler. It's the brainstorm of Gene Lasker, a dirt-track sprint car racer from Tampa who "stumbled onto the idea" trying to rig up a way to cool his racing suit. Powered by AAA batteries recharged by sunlight or a lamp, it's supposed to keep a six-pack or a lunch at about 35 degrees for several hours. Lasker said the secret is a computer chip used in car racing that he "juiced up" to power a cool pack.

•Soleez Spring Loaded insole inserts. Touted to put a bounce in your step with metal springs, this is the invention of Catherine Julian, 49, a mother of five from New Port Richey whose husband has handled several products sold on HSN. "But this is my baby," she said. She gave up trying to put the springs into boots because there are too many sizes while there are only four basic sizes of insoles.

Other Florida winners are Mr. Spritz, a T-shirt that changes color and shows images when wet, from James Drago of Boca Raton; and Veteran Farms, which sells pepper salt grown and packaged by disabled combat veterans. The venture is controlled by Keith Datil of St. Augstine.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8252.

Florida, Tampa Bay area dominate Walmart's entrepreneur contest 04/06/12 [Last modified: Friday, April 6, 2012 10:35pm]
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