CASPER, Wyo. — As the sixth Casper Start-Up challenge gets underway, one of last year’s winners, Linda Olsen, unboxes the latest version of the product she designed, the Earth Throne, at the IMPACT 307 business incubator in Casper.
“When I saw this thing, it looked so good, I was so pleased,” Olsen told Oil City Friday.
The first 1,000 units will be on their way via cargo ship in the next two months, and she hopes to be selling by summer.
Olsen developed Earth Throne, a closed-cell EVA foam plastic toilet seat riser to support homebound caregivers and professional medical staff. Olsen said in her pitch last year that 12.7% of the U.S. population aged 65 or older use toilet seat risers.
The idea evolved from the harrowing experience of caring for her late father-in-law, Dale, who had an orthopedic bar in his hip and suffered using the hard plastic riser seats. After his death and an encounter with the book “One Simple Idea,” by Stephen Key, Olsen began thinking of what she could do to alleviate the suffering of others.
At first, she wasn’t looking to start a business, just to sell the idea.
“I didn’t care if I didn’t make any money,” Olsen said. “I just wanted somebody to benefit, to have it not hurt so bad.”
She began talking to other caregivers, who said it was common that their patients would take a long time to eliminate, and frequently experienced soreness and pain.
“I floated this idea, and they were like, ‘Yes! This is something that we desperately need,’” Olsen said.
Inspired to launch the product under her WyOlsen Design brand, she won the lion’s share of the $50,000 in seed money at last year’s business challenge, along with office space at the building and the guidance of the IMPACT 307 team.
Besides the hard plastic seats on the market, there are some made of vinyl foam, but they break apart and are “nasty to clean.” Olsen said. Some seats have EVA foam over hard plastic, but attach with cumbersome screws and vises.
The Earth Throne has ribs on the bottom that compress and seal to the toilet seat with no additional devices. Olsen said an orthopedic doctor who had been one of the test subjects had reported to her that the seal held despite concerted attempts to break it.
Others who have tested the Earth Throne are reluctant to give it back, Olsen said.
She’s been advised not to advertise too widely until the units are in, but she began to contact local caregivers last week, telling them that it would soon be available.
There are at least 10 people she’s been grateful for throughout the enterprise, including the IMPACT 307 team, her web designer, and the lead product designer and mentor Nelius van As, lead designer of the Bumbo child booster seats.
“Honestly, I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have everybody helping me,” Olsen said. “I’ve been trying to get out of the way so other people can help me.”
Olsen said she had to call upon the entrepreneurial spirit to make the initial cold-call to Van As, who was operating in South Africa. Though he initially refused the offer, a scripture verse Olsen included in her email lingered in his mind and eventually prompted him to take on the project. Olsen and her husband Jack both give a fair amount of credit to divine providence.
“She has a great amount of initiative and creativity,” Jack said, though until the Earth Throne that’s meant “squelching” most of her ideas under a round of practical pressure-testing.
Olsen said receiving the financial award from the Challenge and working in the office provided by IMPACT has also given her a helpful sense of accountability that keeps her on top of things day to day. Their experience and advice has helped her weather the inevitable setbacks, revised time tables, and endless patent refilings.
Olsen said she’s especially grateful to her patent attorney. They’ve had to refile every time the shape of the seat was redesigned, and there’s still some legal considerations over the name “Earth Throne.”
The word “Earth,” like “Puma” and “Dakota,” is trademarked, Olsen said.
“I said, ‘that’s not fair, it’s a planet!’”
“They said, ‘Linda, this is business.’”