There are a lot of examples of inventors who endured dark days before setting forth on their own entrepreneurial venture.
Calmer Corn Heads Founder Marion Calmer had not one, but two, sets of "dark days" before making the decision to hang out his own shingle. On two occasions, he had contracts inked with major-lines, expecting to see his single-chain corn head mass-produced by the majors.
But his invention faced the proverbial "not-invented-here" obstacle at both manufacturers, and an uphill battle with engineers who resented that an outsider might have developed a better design.
He had assumed that they'd take what he'd invented and make it better. "Instead," he says, "they took my toy and broke it, and then I had to go pick up the pieces."
Upon the dissolution of the first agreement, he immediately signed on with another. But the end result was similar, Calmer says, naming engineers who spent more time fighting his invention than examining its feasibility and stringing things along to where it failed to meet the manufacturer's internal ROI requirements.
"I learned first-hand that just because something is a good idea doesn't mean it will be mass-produced."
So Calmer saw Plan A and Plan B both fail. The side manufacturing business he'd started was doing only $20,000 per year. He had outgrown the farm shed and had to get bigger or get out, a decision that led him to purchase a closed Ford New Holland dealership to operate as an assembly operation and warehouse.
Calmer recalled the fall of 2006. "We came home from the Farm Progress Show and we'd finished building corn heads. All the checks had been cashed and we still faced more than $200,000 in bills — with the season already over." Going to the bank wasn't an option; an inventive concept doesn't provide collateral.
Still, the company managed to struggle along until December, when Calmer's annual corn head seminars paid off. "A guy who had seen us at the show walked in to one of our seminars and ordered two corn heads. We paid our bills before the end of the year — that was how close we were to shutting down. But we've been just straight up ever since."
The big leap forward, he says, came with the introduction of the BT stalk roll. "That was what brought us out of the hole and to where we started to make good money. After a lot of lean years, we now expect to be relatively profitable every year."