While thousands of hopeful inventors vie to gain national exposure on season two of ABC's "American Inventor," two local inventors from season one are getting close to debuting their products on the market.
Delafield's Pat Rock and Muskego's Jodi Pliszka were contestants on the first season of the reality show, which is modeled after "American Idol." The winning invention, as voted on by the public, nets a prize of $1 million. Rock's steel chair that attaches to the back of a car for tailgating and camping placed in the top 24. Pliszka's headliner that absorbs sweat made the top 12 and earned her $50,000.
Rock said the idea for his invention -- called the Take-a-Seat -- came to him while tailgating a Brewers game back in 2001.
"We were tailgating at the game and were looking for more space and the idea just came to me. I thought, nobody has made a chair that comes out of the receiver hitch -- there are bike racks, cargo carrier and things like that, but nobody has made a chair," Rock said. "So I decided to sketch out the idea and it grew from there."
Rock gained the patent for the idea in 2004, which lead to his discovery of "American Inventor." ABC sent a postcard advertising the show to recent patent receivers. The show's producers -- including the infamously grumpy Brit, Simon Cowell -- and the million-dollar prize caught the attention of Rock and his wife, Vickie, who then decided to audition in Chicago in December of 2005.
"'American Inventor' is the same thing as 'American Idol,' only you show your invention instead of singing," Rock said. "You go in front of a casting director and producer and give a 2-minute pitch about your product. From the 10,000 people who auditioned, only 350 were invited to Hollywood."
Rock was one of those 350, as was Pliszka. They met and befriended each other Hollywood.
"We thought it was amazing that out of all the cities in the country, we had two of us from Milwaukee that made it as far as we did," says Rock.
Pliszka's road to Hollywood was a little different, however. Diagnosed with the hair loss disease alopecia areata at age 13, Pliszka went completely bald by age 20. Since, she has devoted her time to create awareness about the disease. She has written two children's books, an autobiography, is a motivational speaker, and spokesperson for Signature Eye Care in Brookfield -- all while working toward getting her product on the market.
"By losing my hair, I found out who I am. My whole goal for this invention was just to be able to help people and tell my story," she said. "The more education I can deliver about what alopecia is, the less prejudice there will be."
She said the idea for her invention came while doing Tae Kwon Do with her daughter when she ran into a problem perspiring under her wig. She tried putting paper towels under her wig to keep it from sliding, but was not satisfied and thought she needed to come up with something that would work better. That idea turned into the Headline It.
The Headline It is a thin, disposable liner made of high-tech material meant to serve as a barrier between the head and headwear like wigs and hats. The material absorbs sweats and oils, stopping them from running into the eyes and protecting hats. There are two Headline It product lines, one for medical use (like for cancer patients) and the other for active use (for any athlete or someone who just wants to make sure their favorite hat doesn't get ruined by sweat stains.)
"While I was on the show people kept telling me they couldn't believe no one had come up with this idea yet," she said. "Sometimes I have to pinch myself, I can't believe it either."
While Rock placed in the top 24, Pliszka made it to the top 12, which netted her the $50,000. Making the top 12 meant Pliszka spent two months in Los Angeles, isolated from friends and family and forced to give up her cell phone and computer as part of a confidentiality agreement with ABC.
Both say the exposure they got from "American Inventor" was the best part of the whole experience -- some 20 million viewers watched the first three shows. That exposure has led to both products gearing up for launch this summer. Pliszka's Headline It will be available online at headlineitstore.com beginning July 15, while deals to get it into the chain stores such as Wal-Mart and Walgreen's are in the works.
The Take-a-Seat will be available in August at thetakeaseat.com while similar deals are in the works as well. Prices are still being finalized, but a package of 10 Headline Its should cost $10.99-$12.99, while the Take-a-Seat will run around $300 to $325.
Rock believes his and Pliszka's products are the first out of the season one inventions to be manufactured and ready for the market because they were built to fill a specific need.
"We were genuine people with real products. We both had a mission from the start," he said. "Nobody invents something just to say they have a patent. For us, we needed to see it through to the end, and the end is when people are buying your product and truly getting something out of it."
Thousands of fellow inventors hope to follow in their footsteps when season two of "American Inventors" debuts Wednesday, June 6 on ABC.