Michael Kane describes himself as always being off on his own, building opportunities wherever he saw them.
First, he had a successful landscaping business. Next, he started selling cell phone accessories on eBay - and then cellhelmet was born two years ago.
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As CEO of cellhelmet, Kane, 30, of Greensburg, was initially looking for the most indestructible iPhone case. According to his website, what he crafted were cases that were simple and slim with a unique promise of protection. If someone breaks a device inside his case, the device will be repaired or replaced at one of the company's 52 repair facilities.
The cases cost $49.99 and come with a screen protector and one year of accidental damage coverage. Its newest product, Repair-in-a-Box, is on the shelf in 130 stores. The company guarantees it can take any broken phone and repair it.
This summer, Kane was acknowledged for his work with the Gold Medal Award in Telecommunications for the display of cellhelmet at INPEX 2013 - America's largest invention trade show, held in June in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh. INPEX stands for Invention and New Product Exposition.
Many companies attend, searching for inventions to offer as part of their product line. Some of this year's attendees included Rubbermaid, Elmer's, Plews and Edelman, Kraft, Danco and SkyMall.
Although Kane attended the show last year, this year he went back as a speaker and entered cellhelmet in several categories. His efforts paid off.
"It's definitely a worthwhile week. Our biggest issue from day one is that it took so long to pull the trigger.
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"This is a great venue for inventors and innovators to let people know who they are," said Kane, a 2005 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh. "So many people are afraid to show an idea, but you're never going to get anywhere if you don't display and showcase your ideas."
The inventions at the convention range from conceptual ideas to finished products. Awards were presented in categories from advertising to toys to games and more. An international jury judges each invention and selects a winner in each category.
Nicole Hait, director of corporate communications at INPEX, believes the three-day trade show is a unique opportunity for inventors.
"Winning an INPEX award can help provide visibility for an inventor as well as help them garner publicity for their idea," she said. "Winning an award helps add a level of credibility to their invention."
Bill McCoy has attended INPEX for the last three years because he finds it's the best opportunity to see a product from the beginning. McCoy, product director for SkyMall, a catalog with corporate offices in Phoenix and seen by more than 650 million air travelers annually, has found many interesting inventions over the years. Each year, his company picks one it likes best.
This year, it was the talking dog bed. McCoy describes the bed as having a recording chip inside. If the family is out of town, the bed talks to the dog, telling it that they will be back soon, good dog, etc.
"(We are looking for) products that are useful and could potentially do well in our catalog," he said. " As for cellhelmet, McCoy said he saw the product but felt it was more of a warranty program. "We thought it was a great idea," he said. "But not an invention in the way we look for inventions."
Nonetheless, for Kane, the INPEX award helps to put cellhelmet directly in the spotlight, which is right where it wants to be. "When building a brand, what you need is the spotlight," he said. "That's ultimately what it's done for us, given us more attention."
Michele Stewardson is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
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