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Left to His Own Devices

Ideas Have Always Come Easily to O.C. Inventor, but Developing His Thoughts Into Something Concrete Taxes Him No End

September 22, 1996|BRAD BONHALL | Times Staff Writer

You could prosper in the field of wacky inventions.

--Peking Noodle Co.

*

As resourceful as he is, home-product inventor David Hanacek knows to take advice where he finds it.

This has included fortune cookies, which he says have uncannily affirmed his career choice (while warning him against glibly giving away his ideas to other entrepreneurs).

And it has included Hanacek's 6-year-old son, John, who insisted that colors be used in Dad's new line of caulking-gun nozzles.

"Do a blast of colors. Nobody pays attention to dull colors," the kindergartner reportedly told his dumbfounded father.

Who was Hanacek, 41, to disagree with such home-grown advice?

After all, dust in the heating ducts of his Capistrano Beach home led the allergy-prone Hanacek to a charcoal filter design that traps pollutants. Scraped fingers during construction projects resulted in a design for a bandage that can be applied with one hand. And expansive soil, which plays havoc with foundations in Southern California, led him to a new idea for a floating subfloor system.

When the kitchen sink backed up one New Year's Eve just as party guests were arriving, Hanacek--who has built homes from foundation to shingles--changed roles from butler to handyman. In the process, he hit upon an anti-clog idea that he hopes will someday have plumbers cursing his name.

It is one dream among many for Hanacek.

Inventing comes easily to him--so easily it may well keep him from doing the hard part: seeing his ideas developed into products that people can actually use.

Right now, he is doing his best to stay focused on the Flow-Thru Finisher--one of several caulking tools vying for the attention of do-it-yourselfers. (In a month or so, it'll be at Home Base; now it's at Ganahl Lumber stores in Orange County.)

Hanacek not only invented the tool--which is manufactured in Fountain Valley--but also bought the plastic-injection molds, designed the packaging and is marketing the product. He figures bringing this simple invention into production has been a two-year, $50,000 project. The effort has been financed primarily through last year's sale of a custom-closet building firm he and his wife, Amy, founded in 1983.

In his Mission Viejo office, Hanacek holds up a competitor's caulking aid, one that doesn't attach to the tube.

"See this? It's rigid PVC," he says. "It broke the first time I tried using it.

"Why complicate nature's design? Everything's perfect in nature," he adds, reaching for his own finisher, which doubles as applicator and putty knife.

"Your thumb is perfect because it has a rigid skeletal structure but also a soft flex. So that's what we duplicated. This finisher has the rigidity to move viscous material and the flex to produce a nice, smooth taper."

Hanacek talks the way he thinks, with one idea overlapping the first, and he can't keep his mind off his other designs, which run from solar refrigeration systems to paper shredders to wine-storage units.

The flow of ideas is both boon and bane.

"I'm sort of a lazy version of Martha Stewart. My ideas have flowed freely since childhood, so I've never placed great value on them," he says. "I forever want to move on to the next thing."

A great many of Hanacek's ideas are worthy ones, says Kevin Prince, founder of Inventors Forum, a 6-year-old support group for inventors that meets monthly at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.

Most garage inventors need help marketing their ideas, Prince says, and the support group meetings, which Hanacek does not attend, provide it.

"Inventors often have trouble making the transition from inventor to entrepreneur, but it sounds as if David is doing it," says Prince, who also served as vice president of Macro-Search Corp., an Irvine patent agency that did patent searches for Hanacek.

"Every third day, David would come up with a new idea--all outstanding ideas," Prince says. "Only 1% of our clients were as prolific. The mark of a good inventor is someone who can pump out ideas, but the problem with someone like David is figuring out which idea to focus on. The latest idea is always the most exciting. It can almost be a problem."

Terry Vivian, a Garden Grove entrepreneur who has worked with many manufacturers at his plastic-mold company, also admires Hanacek's ability to crank out inventions.

"David is prolific," Vivian says. "I've wanted to go in with him on some of his ideas."

*

In college, Hanacek majored in philosophy, not engineering, and believes that his lack of formal training has helped him.

"Even though it's a hard way to go, if you're not taught everything, it forces you to expand your thinking," he says. "Sometimes you come up with a solution that no one's thought of and that you wouldn't have thought of if someone had told you beforehand of an easier way to do it."

That experience has come from many years of hands-on construction and bringing more than one entrepreneurial venture to life.

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