Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to fix a problem.
That is what two recent product inventors — one of a construction-project management app, the other of a method for legally draining pools — have found.
Neither started as an inventor or manufacturer, neither hail from the pool and spa industry. But both saw a way that pool and spa construction or ownership could be improved and have recently introduced products with that aim in mind.
Stan Greberis just wanted to know how to legally dispose of water from his pool.
The former food service executive approached several pool and spa stores to help with a quandary faced every day: How to remove water from his pool without illegally sending it to gutters or storm sewers, or paying the expense of plumbing the pool into his sanitary sewer system.
Forthcoming suggestions were not helpful, Greberis said. Most professionals washed their hands of the situation or suggested he perform the task illegally under cover of darkness.
But Greberis feels strongly about keeping waterways pristine: “I’m a father, and I care about generations coming after us.”
He created the Eco Pool Drain, a product that looks like a sprinkler, and is connected via a hose to the waste outlet on the pool pump. Placed on the ground, the blow-molded, recyclable-plastic ring creates a vertical spray that looks like a fountain and allows water to gently seep into the water table.
“I’ve always been a problem solver,” said Greberis, who has held the titles of vice president and director of training and development, and served as a shop teacher for six years. “I came up with the idea out of pure frustration.”
After making some fairly major tweaks to his original prototype, Greberis founded Upward, LLC. A friend introduced him to the world of manufacturing and helped find a factory. The product was released late summer of 2015 and sells for less than $100.
“My desire to bring this to market was to get everyone to do the right thing,” he said.
Charged with overseeing several divisions of the Lincoln, Neb.-based roofing company his family started 30 years ago, Luke Hansen wanted an easier way to track crews, monitor project progress and store photos. He decided to develop an app to suit his company’s needs.
“I needed to know more about what was going on in the field,” he said. “I wanted to know what [people] are doing, what did the job sites look like. But I didn’t want to drive to all the job sites every day.” He also wanted an easy way to find project photos, in case they needed to be referenced quickly.
He approached a local software development shop specializing in custom products for businesses. They built the first version of CompanyCam, an app that uses GPS to connect site photos to an address or project name, then streams them to the cloud so somebody can view a real-time stream to see what crews are doing.
The initial version was used for a time just by his family’s company. Before long, Hansen branched off and founded CompanyCam, the company, so it could sell the software to others. His idea won second place at a start-up competition, where he met the professional who re-vamped the software so it could one day handle the images of hundreds of contracting companies. It was introduced to the pool and spa industry at the beginning of 2016.
It’s true that Hansen, who studied mechanical engineering, international business, math and Spanish in university, made a big switch going from a contracting firm to a software developer. But plenty of research, an interest in technology and working with established software professionals helped. “It would be hard for me to go back,” he says.