Case

Alison Rene Schuback
The Invisibib - Bringing Dignity Into View

The Invisibib – Bringing Dignity into View

Introduction

My father had just come back to Dallas from a trip when his phone rang. My mother and I were on the other end, asking him to spend the next day with me going to the Dallas Convention Center to attend auditions for something called "Everyday Edisons", a PBS show/contest spotlighting amateur inventors. She said, "I know you just got home from the mines (literally, he heads a company that sells equipment to coal mines); however, Alison has been trying to launch the Invisibib for years and I really think this could be a good shot to give it some visibility." Although he was really tired, he agreed to take me to the audition. We went the next morning and waited for over 6 hours to see the first group of judges. Then we were selected to advance to the second round. After waiting for several more hours, we appeared in front of the next group of judges and cameras. After clearing their scrutiny, one of the judges, Bari Fagin, Director of Public Relations for Bed Bath and Beyond, passed a note to Louis Foreman, the founder of "Everyday Edisons", telling him, "Hold this one back". I didn't know it yet, but my fate was about to be sealed. Eventually, Everyday Edisons informed me that I was in the Top 24 out of the thousands who had auditioned across the country. Later I learned that I had won a spot in the final 14.

Soon after, I received an email asking if my parents and I could go to New York for some preliminary taping for the show. We still had no idea the surprise that awaited us. On the big day, we were picked up at the hotel in Long Island, NY by a driver and a cameraman. We were taken to a building with a sign that read Long Island Head Injury Association and found a lobby full of people. The group included: Len Feinstein, Cofounder of Bed Bath and Beyond; Bari Fagin; the Everyday Edisons people (Michael Cable, Louis Foreman and crew), several other dignitaries; plus over 50 brain injury survivors. I delivered a speech to this group detailing my life experiences and highlighting my invention, the Invisibib. See, what I haven't mentioned is that I am a 34-year-old Traumatic Brain Injury survivor.

 

Background

The year was 1997. I had just received my degree from Texas Woman's University in May and had started graduate school at night while working full time in Dallas. As I drove home on the 17th of October, a woman driving an SUV ran a red light and hit my car. I suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury and was not expected to make it to the hospital. The coma I slid into lasted for 29 days, after which I went through 3 months of inpatient rehabilitation focusing on physical, speech, and cognitive therapy. I am still in a wheelchair with several residual problems, but I continue to work to improve every affected area. As a result of the brain injury, the right side of my body does not function as efficiently as the left, and since I am right-handed from birth, this makes everyday tasks (eating, writing, brushing my teeth, etc.) a challenge. To exacerbate the problem, I have an essential tremor that causes me to shake. To help with the tremor, I have had three brain surgeries to date, which involve implanting a DBS [Deep Brain Stimulator] from the brain to a battery pack inserted in my chest. The bottom line is that when I eat, I often spill on my clothes.

My family, friends and I enjoy dining out, and spilling food on my clothes became a real frustration for me. I enjoy wearing nice clothes, but in order to keep my clothing from becoming stained, I continuously attempted to cover myself with napkins, which kept falling off while I ate. I looked around at other options, trying to find something that would protect my clothing while still managing to look attractive. I found only frilly, checkered, or other undesirable options. I finally thought that it would be sensible to create my own cover-up of clear vinyl which could be easily cleaned but also allow the nice clothing underneath to be seen.

I decided to take as much money as I could risk and invest it in development and sales of a product, which became the Invisibib. This was a daunting proposition, since my only previous business experience had been a couple of college courses in advertising and a small, shoestring operation with a friend, which was a dry cleaning/errand service. So, despite the odds, I set up a corporation (Independent Empowerment), hired a business/marketing manager, set up a website, and made every effort to be successful for about a year and a half (which was as long as money lasted).

Unfortunately, the business suffered from what so many startups do, which was undercapitalization, caused in part by initial delays (finding the right manufacturer to allow us to charge an appropriate market price; launching the website, which took much longer than expected; getting the product exactly the way it needed to be, etc.). We marketed primarily to retirement communities and the disabled population. The people who did buy it raved about it, but unfortunately, there weren't enough sales in our short time in business to make sufficient profit. We also had plans to broaden our market to other retail venues. So, I was left with what I knew was a great idea, a few leftover Invisibibs, and a big hole in my rapidly diminishing savings.

Then along came the "Everyday Edisons" opportunity, and now people who can benefit from the use of the Invisibib will be able to have them. Even more important is the way that the Invisibib will now be developed and distributed. "Everyday Edisons" is setting up a company with the backend operation being handled through the Head Injury Association in Long Island. My fellow brain injury survivors will now be able to participate in the marketing, distribution, and other aspects of the business. This will allow them to have productive employment and a sense of accomplishment, which they would not have without this opportunity. That, as well as having my product developed and sold, has made this a dream come true for me. My goal in life has always been to make a difference, which I attempted even before my injury by volunteering with Special Olympics and other organizations as well as my original Master's degree concentration in Family Therapy.

Another exciting event has happened as a result of the "Everyday Edison's" selection. A story was written about me in the December, 2008 issue of "Inc Magazine" and I was selected as the "Inc Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year" for 2008! I have since received numerous emails from brain injury survivors and their families who have been inspired and encouraged by my story. I have also received offers for local speaking engagements. My life has definitely taken a positive turn and I am ready for the next step!

Professional Issue

The initial challenge with the Invisibib is that we are starting a new business in a materially less desirable economic time. However, with the significant growth of the primary target market, which is the disabled and elderly (due to medical advances as well as the large Baby Boomer retirement community), there should be solid potential for continuing positive market response. The next focus is to address the issue of marketing this product to other targets that are more main stream. A couple of examples would be: my cousin is a doctor who travels by car to teach. He enjoys wearing the Invisibib while eating during his long drive so that he arrives at his next work destination without stains on his clothing. Another is my mother, who wears it in the kitchen when entertaining to finish last minute touches as people come over, allowing her clothing to stay clean. It is important to find other target markets.

Personal

In discussing my personal issues, it would be easy for anyone to acknowledge that someone with a disability has challenges to overcome every day. Taking on a new business venture is obviously not as easy for me as it may be for most of you. However, I have always been a very positive person. I feel confident that, with the continued support of my family, I will be able to put the same level of determination and strong expectations into this effort as I have in the recent years of working on my recovery.