Steven Pierson does not fit the mold of your stereotypical local entrepreneur.
His technology is not high tech, but it meets a particular need. Pierson is not fresh out of college with an MBA degree. Rather, he’s been a pipefitter for more than 35 years.
What Pierson does share in common with successful entrepreneurs is his passion for the device that he invented and his determination to see it become a commercial success. That commitment and the practicality of the tool he invented helped propel Pierson into the finals of this week’s “What’s the Big Idea?” start-up competition.
The final “knockout” judging starts at 5 p.m. Thursday (June 20) at Relix Variety Theater, 1208 North Central. The general public is invited to attend, but pre-registration is requested at http://www.knoxvillechamber.com/events-calendar-registration?id=4cc74d5d-5f9d-e211-acc1-00155d011c0b.
Pierson’s company – PipeFighters Square – is focused on saving pipefitters time and energy with its first-of-a-kind tool that can turn a two-person task into a one-person job.
“I knew in my mind there had to be a better way for us to do our job so I just sat down one night and blocked everything out and concentrated on how to fix the problem,” he told teknovation.biz.
“The idea came to me rather fast and the more I thought about it, the more I knew I was on to something,” Pierson added. “I grabbed a pencil and paper and went to work. I drew it up and knew that the square would work on very many types offsets including various degrees, saddles, laterals, tees, etc. From that moment on, I knew that I had what every pipefitter needs.”
Pierson says the tool was invented in April 2010, but he “kept it to myself for two years.” More than a year ago, he contacted Stephen D. Adams of Luedeka Neely Group, P.C. in Knoxville.
“I applied for a provisional patent first to protect my invention,” he explained. “Also in March (2012), I went to Universal Machine in Kingsport and had them to build the prototype.”
What are the benefits of the new tool? Pierson says that “one man can square the pipe without measuring end to end with a tape. It can be used on the inside or the outside of the offset at any degree. It is the best way to find the degree of an existing offset or surface and much more. No square or protractor even comes close to being able to do these things.”
“What’s the Big Idea?” was organized by The Development Corporation of Knox County, Knoxville Chamber and Tech 20/20. The overall sponsor is Rodefer Moss & Company.
After the quarter finals resulted in nine companies vying for the three final slots, the organizers teamed each of the nine with a mentor. Pierson’s was Jimmy Rodefer, Chief Executive Officer of Rodefer Moss.
“I have really learned a lot about the business side of running the company,” Pierson said of the mentoring that Rodefer provided. “Mentoring has really helped to teach me how to present my product.”
If he wins, he plans to use the prize money for marketing and finance. Regardless, he knows “the pipe trade will never be the same” because of his invention. Pierson already has pipefitters, electricians and even race car drivers waiting for it.