Editor’s note: UW-Green Bay math student Sam Hunt will be the featured speaker at the 17th annual University of Wisconsin System Symposium for Undergraduate Research, Scholarly and Creative Activity (URSCA) on Thursday, April 19, 2018 and Friday, April 20. The event is hosted by UW-Green Bay.
By definition, most inventions start on the ground floor.
Sam Hunt’s new golf training aid literally got its beginning in his basement approximately six years ago.
The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s resident Kiwi came up with PrecisionLAG tinkering downstairs. Hunt, a 33-year-old native of New Zealand, is now in the process of taking his device from a provisional to full patent application.
So what took him so long?
“It was mid-2012 when I first had the idea,” the mathematics major recalled. “I hacked together a prototype in my basement.”
That basement was located in Pennsylvania, where Sam’s wife, Megan, was attending graduate school before taking her present position on the Phoenix faculty as an assistant professor of statistics.
Hunt, who has been a golfer most of his life, had graduated in 2007 with a degree in kinesiology after playing four years on the University of Nevada Las Vegas team.
“That degree gave me a good understanding of motor learning, anatomy and physiology,” he pointed out. “Those are things that are really applicable in golf. It helped me eventually come up with this golf invention.”
The invention primarily involves flaws in a golfer’s short game (chipping and putting). The device is attached to a player’s arm and reinforces how to control the essential relationship between that leading arm and the club. When struck properly, the clubhead should trail that lead arm.
What also helped Hunt come up with the idea were four years spent as a caddy at the prestigious Oakmont Country Club, where he carried bags for golfers of all abilities.
“I was watching the same mistake being made over and over again,” he said. “I saw how many shots people were wasting around the greens. My brain was ticking over how I could fix this. How could I make it easier for people to understand what I was trying to tell them?”
That’s when the light bulb clicked on in his head and was turned on in Hunt’s basement.
Within a week of testing his prototype and seeing that it worked, he started researching the exhaustive patent process.
“I found a book called ‘Patent it Yourself,’ written by a former patent examiner from the United States Patent Office,” he said. “It was 1,000 pages. I read that whole thing. Everything he said in that book was meaningful to me.”
As often happens, life got in the way.
“I started writing my provisional patent application and doing all of the drawings,” Hunt recalled. “I got about 95 percent finished and then I found out we were moving to Green Bay. That left me about six months to finish some home improvement projects. My focus became that and my application and prototypes went in a shoebox under my bed.”
That’s where they remained for about five years. Out of sight, but not out of mind.
“I knew it was there,” Hunt admitted. “I would pull the box out and practice with the device myself. But, I was quite paranoid about it – I would never show it to anybody. As soon as you disclose it in public, it’s not patentable anymore. I kept it in storage.”
That’s when the UW-Green Bay connections provided a spark.
After finishing second with his Local Food Experiment idea in the first Austin E. Coffrin School of Business Student Idea Contest last spring, Hunt won the $500 first prize for PrecisionLAG on Feb. 26, 2018.
“Sam is definitely an entrepreneur,” UW-Green Bay entrepreneurship lecturer Ryan Kauth observed. “His first idea had both customer need (for both local farmers and end users who eat what he prepares) and purpose. That was perfect for driving his curiosity to improve and learn on the fly about his process, customers, suppliers and all the legal details.”
Kauth thinks Hunt embodies the definition of an inventor.
“I like that he’s not afraid to experiment and temporarily “fail,” Kauth said. “Sam is also great at building community around his venture – with PrecisionLAG he’s taken what he’s learned from the first venture and is catapulting this one to move faster. I enjoy asking Sam questions about how an aspect of his business developed and learning from him.
“Plus, he just has this great disposition,” Kauth continued. “I’m not sure there’s a negative bone in his body.”
“Ryan has been a lot of help,” Hunt said. “And a good source of support. Before the whole process of patenting, just getting started seemed like a huge cliff that was too high to climb. Once I saw that things were more realistic than they first appeared, it gave me more confidence.”
In addition to the $500 first prize, Hunt received an additional $500 from WiSys for the best idea with intellectual property promise from a student with a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) major.
He now moves on to competition for a $10,000 first prize at the April 11 “Pitch”, which involves students pitching their ideas to a panel of experienced judges in a format similar to the popular television show “Shark Tank.”
A victory there could move Hunt on to the WiSys Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament on April and a chance to win $2,500 in cash, $25,000 in additional seed funding from Ideaadvance and represent the state at the International Business Model Competition in Provo, Utah in May for up to $27,000 in cash.
WiSys was established in 2000 as an independent, nonprofit-supporting organization for the University of Wisconsin System that educates approximately 180,000 students annually. Its goal is to advance scientific research throughout the state by patenting technologies developed out of the universities and licensing those inventions to companies capable of developing them to benefit the state and beyond.
“I met Mads Gjefsen (regional associate) in early 2017,” Hunt said. “I became interested in WiSys. They are a technology pathway for how to get things patented. They had a trustworthy vibe. As a paranoid inventor, I felt I could trust them, so I disclosed PrecisonLAG to them. They eventually paid for the provisional patent application.”
“Student entrepreneurs face many challenges as they develop ideas into products,” Gjefsen began. “We at WiSys help support them in this process, by managing intellectual property, funding prototype development and organizing competitions and events to train them in communication and business development skills.”
The device is in the 12-month window now with the full application due in July. Once that is submitted, it could take as long as two or three years to be approved.
In the meantime, Hunt is moving forward on other fronts.
“The prototype is being made right now by 3DC, which is a group that is a collaboration between UW-Fox Valley and UW-Platteville engineering students,” he said. “It should be finished soon.”
Hunt has contacted a former UNLV roommate who works in Nevada with a professional golf management training program, who has agreed to assist with the prototype testing.
With an estimated 26 million golfers in the United States, Hunt is hopeful PrecisionLAG separates itself from the approximately 350 other training aids in the marketplace right now.
“From my experience growing up in golf and being completely obsessed with improvement, I never found a training aid that I truly liked,” he said. “I felt like they were all gimmicks. There might be a couple out there that I’ve used in the past for specific changes I was making.
“I feel like this one solves a problem that none of them solves. I don’t feel like it’s just one of 350 trying to get people’s attention.”
“Sam is a creative and hard-working student with exciting business ideas and we are proud to support his efforts,” Gjefsen added. “We are confident Sam’s creativity and dedication will take him to exciting places and are proud to support him on that journey.”
By freelance writer Jay Lillge, for UW-Green Bay’s Office of Marketing and University Communication