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Entrepreneurs
Business Observer Friday, Feb. 12, 2010 11 years ago

Thumbs Up

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Texting can wear out your thumbs and a slip can ruin your middle-school reputation. Count on a 12-year-old to help you type TXT MSG more accurately.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

Have you ever tried to send a TXT MSG to your BF and your fingers keep hitting the wrong keys?

LOL, happens all the time.

Just ask Taylor Kent, 12, whose friends use their cell phones to text more than to talk.

So the Lee County sixth grader invented TextTapperz :) — stretchy thumb socks with small plastic dots on the end of them to help you hit the right key.

The idea came to her last year as she struggled to find a project for a school science fair.

Taylor's mother, Sandy Kent, tried to be helpful when her daughter came home with the dreaded science-fair assignment. “There's dust on the fans,” she suggested, looking around the house for a problem to solve.

After a week of searching in vain (the fan-duster idea was DOA), Taylor Kent was texting a friend when her fingers slid off the miniature keyboard. It was her eureka moment.

Initially, the Three Oaks Middle School student imagined a full-hand glove but quickly realized all she needed was a thumb sock. She designed it with paper and
thread and later used stretchy cloth she bought at a Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store.

What began as a science fair project became a business idea when Kent won a special award at the Thomas A. Edison Regional Inventors Fair in Fort Myers last year. The prize: Advice from two professional business consultants on how to market and sell her invention. “I was kind of shocked,” says Taylor Kent. “I never thought it would go this far.”

Taylor and her mother, Sandy Kent, who works for the federal government, met regularly after school and on weekends with the consultants at the Panera Bread cafe in Fort Myers. They gave Taylor advice on pricing (they cost $4.99 each), how to incorporate using Legalzoom.com and how to file for a provisional patent that's effective for one year. “I was thinking it was going to be an easy project,” Taylor Kent chuckles.

Running a business while you're in school takes some juggling. Taylor Kent is busy with theater and sports, including basketball and volleyball. “It's taken a year to get this far,” says Sandy Kent.

Taylor Kent devotes some time to her business nearly every week, though some days it gets in the way of other things she'd rather do. She strives for work-life balance. “I don't want to quit all my activities,” she says.

Sandy Kent estimates she's spent about $1,000 on her daughter's idea, money she considers well spent because of the educational value. That start-up cost included nearly $700 for the professionally designed Web site, which recently launched.

Taylor Kent's mother is cautious about spending more money until sales pick up for the 200 pairs they've stockpiled. She estimates it could cost as much as $5,000 to obtain a patent, for example.

“They were originally called Thumbs Up, but we wanted a Web name to go with it,” Taylor Kent says. The Web site for “thumbs up” was already taken, so she settled on Texttapperz.com.

Taylor Kent found that selling via the Internet is more effective and profitable than finding retailers who will stock TextTapperz and take a big cut of the profits. Now that the site has been launched, the marketing can begin to her target customers who are between the ages 10 and 14.

“It has huge potential,” says Suzanne Specht, assistant director of the Small Business Development Center at Florida Gulf Coast University. Specht is helping Kent develop the business.

“There's such a market niche with her generation,” says Specht, who says she has never worked with a youngster her age with such a great idea. “Those are kids who embrace technology.”

Because the Kents have a limited budget, Specht suggests Taylor take advantage of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to spread the word among her peers. “It could go viral that way,” she says.

“She's got enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit on her side and she needs to use those to her advantage,” Specht says.

—Jean Gruss

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