People - March 2007

He thinks big with other people’s ideas
By Chris Richter

Louis Foreman says it often. “Everybody has a great idea. The problem is most people never really follow through on that idea.”

But the CEO of Charlotte-based Enventys LLC, which helps inventors turn concepts into products, isn’t most people. He holds nine patents for technologies behind such products as orthopedic braces, fabrics that adjust to hot and cold weather and bulletproof vests. His latest big idea is Everyday Edisons, a reality television show that debuts April 25 on Public Broadcasting Service. He’s an executive producer.

Unlike American Inventors, a similar show broadcast on ABC last year, there is no competition among inventors and no voting by a television audience. Instead, the show follows 12 inventors as they work with industrial designers, engineers, patent lawyers, marketers and others.

Much of what Everyday Edisons will show is the work done by Enventys, which he started in 2001. Among the company’s products are a safety helmet for pole vaulters, a glovelike device stroke victims can use in rehabilitation and a mechanical pet guinea pig. While Foreman enjoys working with neophytes and the show consumes much of his energy these days, Enventys gets 80% of its revenue from consumer-product companies.

Foreman, 39, won’t disclose sales for the 38-employee company. He says compensation is tied to performance, with Enventys usually getting equity in a client company or royalties from sales of products it nurtures. “That creates discipline. If we have skin in the game on the projects we take on, we can’t say yes to everything.”

That’s also true of Everyday Edisons. He and five partners put up $5 million in July 2005 to form Bouncing Brain Productions LLC, the Charlotte-based company producing the show. Participants surrender rights to their inventions to Bouncing Brain in return for 10% of sales for 20 years.

The TV show isn’t the first idea Foreman has pursued. He grew up in Northbrook, Ill., and earned a bachelor’s in economics in 1989 from the University of Illinois. He then started University Sportswear, a Champaign, Ill., apparel maker that had about 150 employees at its peak. He sold it in 1995 and moved to Charlotte to start Track Gear, a NASCAR apparel company. He sold it two years later. In 1998, he was hired as president of Parker Athletic Products, a Charlotte company that makes protective sports gear. He was fired in 2001 after a dispute with founder Bruce Parker over control of the company. Foreman started Enventys in part, he says, because of frustrations with developing his inventions.

He and fellow Bouncing Brain investors are banking that such products as a drywall T-square and a trashcan gripper will generate enough sales to cover their costs. “If we did our job right, hopefully we’ll make enough money that we can do a Season Two.”