Great ideas can come from anyone, anywhere at any time – even while using the bathroom. Just ask 11-year-old Claire Rhodes, a student at Liberty Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio.
Tired of listening to her mom remind her to wash her hands after every trip to the restroom, Claire came up with a clever idea. She took the pump from an automatic soap dispenser, retrofit the nozzle into a toilet flush handle, filled the reservoir with hand sanitizer and created the first working prototype for the Toiletizer No. 2 (patent pending).
Her invention earned her an invitation to this year’s National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo (NICEE) in Dearborn, Michigan – an event sponsored and organized by the STEMIE Coalition. Claire also won the Most Visionary Award from Koch Industries, Georgia-Pacific’s parent company, and supporter of STEMIE Coalition.
Claire’s invention impressed us at Georgia-Pacific so much, we invited her to tour our Consumer Products Group in Neenah, Wisconsin – an innovation lab for research and development.
“When I first learned I was going to visit the lab, I couldn’t believe a big company like Koch or Georgia-Pacific would be interested in me and my Toiletizer,” said Claire.
At the facility, Georgia-Pacific staff members walked Claire through the product testing and development process using her Toiletizer prototype.
Over the course of her day, Claire led focus groups with potential customers, received coaching on how to pitch her product and filmed a short commercial. She also participated in a brainstorming session on ways to improve the Toiletizer and even put it through real-world tests exploring the potential benefits to different audiences.
Guiding Claire through the whole experience was Seneca Bivens, a Georgia-Pacific research scientist with a personal interest in Claire’s success as a budding inventor.
“I’m a big advocate of helping teach children and helping them expand their learning and their love for skills that some kids don’t always have the ability to be a part of,” said Bivens. “Science is a big part of that, especially girls in science, and if we can encourage them and we can show them how fun it can be, then that gets more children into science roles and into innovation.”
Claire’s day wasn’t entirely spent on product testing, though – she also learned about the business side of selling a product, from marketing to retail pricing and product placement. Members of the Advance Concepts team helped Claire simulate a day in the life of her target audience to understand their needs. And engineers with Georgia-Pacific helped apply focus group feedback to her product and 3D-printed a revised prototype.
It was an eye-opening experience for Claire that got her excited about taking her product to market, and eventually working in a collaborative environment where she can do what she loves – create.
“When I grow up, I really just want to work here or be an inventor and make future innovations,” she said.
Claire has big plans for the Toiletizer and realizes its potential beyond residential use. While she hopes to one day sell aftermarket kits at retail locations, she believes the Toiletizer has greater commercial appeal for high-traffic public facilities at sports stadiums, hospitals and schools – maybe even in her own Ohio school district.
But for now, she’s just happy nobody has to remind her to wash her hands.