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September 6, 2010 LOCAL INSIGHT

Even In A Tough Economy, Innovator Is Keeping Busy

Most days, Gary van Deursen steps out of his Essex home and onto the rungs of his sailboat, Innovation.

Van Deursen is an award-winning innovator with over 50 patents and specially designed products ranging from Black and Decker vacuums to a plastic window scraper that holds a single edged razor.

Today he runs his own innovation business and wrestles with a host of intriguing design problems that range from swimming pool vacuums to a new generation of wheelchairs.

Before he ventured off on his own in January of 2006 to form Van Deursen LLC, he spent several years running product design departments for some of the world’s largest consumer companies including Stanley Tools and General Electric.

“No matter where I was, I was always inventing beyond what the company was asking me to do,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed recognizing a problem people either do or don’t recognize.”

Clients like GE and Stanley Tools provided the cash flow for his fledgling business and still account for 80 percent of Van Deursen’s business. But his true enjoyment these days, he says, comes from a different kind of innovation, the kind where he’s “doing something for the good of mankind.”

For the past two years, he’s been designing a newly launched Sunrise Medical Helium wheelchair with a couple of engineers in Germany. The award-winning wheelchair is sold in Europe as the Helium and in the U.S. as the Q7 from Sunrise.

“Basically, the idea was to take your existing wheelchair and make it as light as we possibly could and as functional as we could make it. The wheelchair weight can get down to under 14 pounds, which is amazing for an entire wheelchair,” he said. It sells in the U.S. for around $1,500.

“One of the difficult things with wheelchairs is you never know the size and weight that the user is, so adjustability is a key element to doing a good wheelchair. Also structurally it needs to be rigid,” he said. “We ended up looking at every single component of a wheelchair to come up with this. Clever things we did were looking at newer things being used on bicycles; the tubes on the chair are oval, not round aluminum tubes, so that allowed us to take the shape and use it in a more structural way and get a thinner wall tube. We made the chair even stronger and lighter than titanium, which surprised us.”

Van Deursen says his business has slowed down over the past three months, as he’s finding many companies are nervous about the economy and staying with the products they currently have. Yet from an inventor’s standpoint, he’s also found that bad economic times “are interesting.”

“A lot of companies have cut back on their staffs and aren’t doing much product development, so that’s an opportunity,” he noted.

He also finds that new business opportunities surface in unexpected ways.

“I just bought a pool vacuum for cleaning the bottom of the pool. I took it apart, because I had designed dust busters, knowing full well it couldn’t be returned. I ended up talking to the president of the company about the product and we hit it off, now I’m working for him. You never know what’s going to happen,” he said.

He added that products from his designs are being made, literally, all over the world.

“The wheelchair is made in Germany. The powered wheelchairs are made in the U.S. My pressure washers and electric generator designs are made in Milwaukee. Scrapers and knives are made in China with the blades made in Virginia. Nail guns in Rhode Island. Tape measures are made in Connecticut. Hammers in Taiwan. My flashlight designs are made in China and Mexico,” he noted.

If he had to guess, he estimates that there are probably hundreds of thousands of people that have products he has designed or invented, from irons and dust busters to “just about every new Stanley product in the last 15 years.”

“When I’m on a plane people often ask me if they own something that I’ve designed/invented, and I can always find something. I start with their kitchen, go through the garage and end up in their work shop,” he noted.



Joanna Smiley writes the weekly Local Insight column. Reach her at



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