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Young inventor's power strip solves plug-in problems

June 1, 2011

Fox Point - Not every college graduate can say he has his face on the box of a product that he invented, but Jake Zien is starting his career in graphic design with a big notch already on his belt.

Zien, who just turned 22 and is an alum of Nicolet High School, is the inventor of a flexible power strip called Pivot Power that just hit the store shelves in May.

In a phone interview last week, Zien said his power strip started as part of a six-week precollege program at the Rhode Island School of Design.

"It was a pretty rigorous curriculum, and we all had to pick a major," Zien said. "I picked industrial design as my focus for the summer. We had to conceive a product and then take it through all the stages."

That included sketches, renderings and a model. His final product, a power strip that telescoped and turned, eventually led to his serpentine Pivot Power design.

"I wanted to solve the problems of outlets that block you off from using every plug," Zien said. An admitted big user of technology, he has many electronic devices that plug into a power source.

Zien went back to Nicolet, completed his senior year, graduated and headed to the Rhode Island School of Design for college.

Over the next four years he continued to tinker with the idea and design.

"I was working with a family friend who is an intellectual property lawyer about how to get a patent," Zien said. The lawyer happened to read an article about Quirky on an American Airlines in flight magazine and suggested Zien contact the company.

Quirky is a business that takes ideas and through a website helps develop them into a finished product.

"It cost $100 to submit an idea," Zien said.

Now it costs $10, but the process is the same. People can visit the quirky.com website, see and comment on the idea and take part in the evolution of the final product.

"They put it up for sale before they manufacture them and each product has a threshold," Zien said. "They have to pre-sell a certain number to make sure it will be profitable."

Pre-sales are also on the website.

"My threshold was 960 units and they pre-sold it in four days," Zien said. After the threshold it met, Quirky works with a manufacturer to get the product to market.

Everyone who visits the site and helps with product development shares in the profits. Thirty cents of $1 goes to the developers, with the inventor getting at least 37 percent of that 30 percent.

"Quirky gets 70 percent, but they streamline the process of getting a product to market," Zien said. "They worked on my product for a year and spent $1 million on it. Had I tried to go it alone with raising some money another way, it would have been very expensive."

Zien said the Sun Dance Channel will feature a series on Quirky. He - and Pivot Power - are part of the first episode that will air June 28.

After a quick trip home to visit his family, Zien will move to New York City, where he will work for a social media start-up company that he is not able to name. Its founders are a few young men who left Google, he said.

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