Society

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Q&A with Mike Kelly, Ottawa inventor and Visa Elevator Pitch finalist, who has one minute to argue why his product should win $10,000

On Monday, July 16, Mike Kelly will have a one-minute elevator ride to tell judges why his invention should win $10,000.

What’s the most you’ve ever accomplished in 60 seconds? Burned 10 calories? Made some microwave popcorn to totally cancel that out? Ask Mike Kelly next week, and his answer just might be “Won $10,000 for my business.” Ottawa homeboy Kelly is a finalist in the Visa Elevator Pitch competition taking place in downtown Toronto, which gives eight entrepreneurs a one-minute elevator ride to convince judges that their business idea is the most deserving of the cash. Kelly’s submission the Wiper Shaker, which vibrates wiper blades to clear off debris and therefore improve safety while driving, was selected via a Facebook vote. Ottawa Magazine’s Emma Paling grilled Kelly on his entry (good practice for his pitch on July 16!).

Is this your first invention?
My first successful one. I come from the high-tech sector, so I tried some things out with that many years ago, but nothing really took off.

How did you get the idea for the Wiper Shaker?
The mother of all invention! I was driving on the Queensway during a snowstorm and my wiper blades started to clog up. I leaned out the window, as anyone would do, to flick it, but lost concentration, veered off the highway, and hit the brakes too hard. Once my heart stopped racing, I thought, “There must be another way.” That was in the 1980s; it went into a book for quite a long time.

How did you take that incident and turn it into a company?
Many prototypes. A lot of phone-calling and door-knocking. I gave out tons of prototypes for people to try and get used to. It’s been a lot of word of mouth – slow but steady growth.

The Wiper Shaker vibrates wiper blades to clear off debris and improve safety while driving.

Why is your product unique?
The wiper blade really hasn’t changed since its conception in the 1900s. We make it better, which in turn helps visibility in winter driving situations.

How will you win over the judges in only 60 seconds?
Good question! First of all, I’ll have to try to avoid throwing up. It’s a situation that’ll give me butterflies. It’s unnerving standing there having people judge you. But the product is unique — there’s no other product that vibrates wiper blades. The reality is people die from accidents caused by poor visibility, and the Wiper Shaker stops that. The product is also a time and cost-saving mechanism. Large trucks don’t have to stop and pull over just to literally flick something off their windshield. So it’s a time and cost saver, but the safety element is primary.

Why did you decide to enter Visa’s contest?
It’s a great opportunity. Who’s more known than Visa? Being involved with it, even in the top ten, will increase my exposure. Advertising is important, but also very expensive. It’s very exciting to be involved with too. We’ll see how it goes!