Innovation: A great (safe) leap forward

Trampoline innovator takes the top prize in the Product of the Year awards.

Like many innovative products, the Springfree trampoline started with a simple problem. Keith Alexander, an engineering professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, wanted to reduce the risk of injury after his child fell through the springs on his backyard trampoline.

It took 14 years and millions of dollars in development and testing to bring a prototype to market. And now, Springfree Trampoline Inc., a Canadian company that purchased the intellectual property in 2003, has just received the top prize in Canada’s first-ever Product of the Year awards.

Alexander’s design replaces the trampoline’s metal springs with a configuration of flexible fiberglass rods that attach to the bottom of the mat, so that the edge of the trampoline is soft. Finally, a fitted net is attached and held up with bowed poles that give readily on impact. By eliminating the springs, the metal ring and the metal poles, the company says it has engineered out more than 83% of the risk of injury.

After Alexander came up with the design, he began looking for someone to help turn his idea into a salable product. He got in touch with Canadian investor and technology commercialization specialist Steve Holmes, whose company, based in Markham, Ont., bought the intellectual property.

“Parents are willing to pay a premium for safety,” says Springfree vice-president Michael Crane. “There are people who would never have considered a trampoline until they saw Springfree.”

On Jan. 21, Crane accepted the top award at the Product of the Year ceremony, which was held at Pangaea Restaurant in Toronto. Three-time women’s trampoline Olympic medal winner Karen Cockburn was on hand to do a demonstration on the winning product.

The Product of the Year awards, which started in France 23 years ago, take place in more than 25 countries. Canadian businessman Dennis Glavin brought the program to Canada this year.

The idea is for Canadian companies to showcase products that demonstrate innovation in design, function or packaging. Products must be launched in the previous 18 months. However, even though Sprinfree’s basic design wasn’t new, the company qualified for the award because of the launch of a new trampoline in a “squircle” shape – square with rounded edges.

A jury that included representatives of Canadian Business and other members of the media, the marketing industry and trade representatives narrowed the participants down to a shortlist that was voted on by more than 12,000 Canadian consumers. The categories included skin care, hair care, beverages and household cleaners.

The other winners at the Canadian awards this year were Axe shampoos and conditioner, Baileys with a hint of coffee, BlueWater Potato Crunch fish fillets, Canada Dry green tea ginger ale, Dempster’s Healthy Way with ProCardio Recipe bread, Majesta bathroom tissue, Mott’s Fruitsations harvest apple with calcium, Mott’s Fruitsations pomegranate with antioxidant, V8 V-Fusion and Vivimind tablets.

The winners received a consumer research report valued at $20,000 and the right to use the Product of the Year branding for 12 months after paying a $15,000 licensing fee and the $5,000 fee paid by all finalists. Companies can use the award logo on their packaging and mention it in advertising campaigns. According to the Product of the Year organization, internationally, companies report a 10% to 15% boost in sales after winning.