Not many people have invented something with a provisional patent by their 18th birthday.
At a glance
COMPANY: Equinnovation LLC.OWNER: Somer Hand.AGE: 18.FAMILY: Parents, Lisa and Barry Hand; sister, Sarah.EDUCATION: Graduate of Academic Magnet High School, North Charleston; will attend Virginia Tech this fall and major in mechanical engineering with a minor in equine science.EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITY: Riding horses, being on crew team.ONLINE: facebook.com/equinnovation
Even fewer people can say they are president of their own company before they go to college.
Somer Hand can.
The rising college student from Mount Pleasant used her love of horses and her curiosity of how things work to develop a new gadget in the horse business.
She, through her company, Equinnovation LLC, invented a clip that allows horses to break free when they are spooked or frightened, instead of remaining tethered to a stable or pole.
The four-part product is called EqueSafe. It allows a horse to free himself when it applies 250 pounds of force to the gadget. The clip includes a retractable coil, a sleeve cover for the clip and a carabiner.
With different parts made in Pennsylvania and Taiwan, the Academic Magnet High School graduate initially ordered 250 and has already sold one-fifth of them.
It didn’t happen overnight, though.
Hand’s love of horses started from her earliest memory, and she grew up with a fascination for mechanical parts.
Her mother jokingly called her cursed with her affection for horses because of what happened when her mother took up riding again after trying to have a baby.
“The first day out, they put her on a pregnant white horse,” Hand said. “A week later my mom was pregnant.”
Hand said her affinity for horses is innate because she doesn’t remember ever not wanting a pony.
“I have always loved horses,” Hand said. “My mom told me that when I turned 10, if I still wanted a horse, I would get one.”
She started riding lessons at 7 and at 10 got her first horse, a grey mare named Ellie. The next year, she got Cookies ’n Cream, an American Warmblood, which she continues to ride. In fact, she’s already transported him to Virginia Tech, where she will begin majoring in mechanical engineering for product design and minoring in equine science later this month.
“I wanted somewhere close to home, a place that offered engineering and horse studies, and it has a gorgeous landscape,” Hand said. “It was pretty much everything I wanted.”
Her curiosity for gadgetry became apparent when, as a young girl, she and her father, an engineer, watched the former TV show “Robot Wars.”
“People would build robots, and they would fight to the death,” she said. “I wanted to know how they worked. My father said then he knew I would be an engineer when I grew up.”
Hand started scribbling down ideas for inventions in a notebook long before high school.
“I came up with this idea my freshman year,” Hand said.
During her sophomore year, she developed a, bulky eight-part forerunner to the EqueSafe design as part of a science fair project.
She won the Lowcountry Science Fair and went on to the International Science Fair in San Jose, Calif.
“I didn’t win,” she said with a laugh. “I was up against cures for cancer and things like that.”
As part of a her senior thesis at Academic Magnet, she redesigned the device, keeping the coiled cable on the top and shrinking the clip down by a third of its original size.
She tested it in a lab where her father worked before testing it in the field.
“I probably went through a million different prototypes before it was perfect,” she said.
From stable to store
Then she had to try to sell it, and neither she nor her father had any experience in marketing.
They contacted the Score Coastal chapter, which helps people start up businesses, and chapter chairman Joe Conti guided them through the process.
“He’s been an incredible help,” Hand said.
She took it to local tack shops, where it is being sold for $29.99. But she also took it to the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in 2010.
There she met John Nunn, a discriminating distributor for international equestrian retailer Bit of Britain.
She gave her 30-second spiel about the product. Nunn congratulated her for “an amazing product,” adding “ ‘I don’t say that very often,’ ” according to Hand. “That was a big moment for me.”
He bought 15 and placed the product on his website and in his stores.
Hand said others have tried somewhat similar designs before, but they were either too weak or too strong, they didn’t include the stretchable coil or they used varieties of twine that were inconsistent.
“This has been kind of a dream come true for me,” she said. “It’s really satisfying and a lot of fun to come up with a crazy idea and take it all the way to market. I would love to be the head of a Fortune 500 company one day as long I get to ride horses on the side.”
As for those other ideas in her notebook, she has a revolutionary saddle concept.
“It’s something the saddle world has never seen before,” Hand said. “It’s really unique and innovative, but it is very much under wraps.”
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.
Somer Hand has developed this new tool for the horse industry that she calls EqueSafe. She now markets it through her company, Equinnovation LLC.×
Hand explains how her invention, EqueSafe, works.×
Somer Hand has developed this new tool for the horse industry that she calls EqueSafe. she now markets it through her company Equinnovation LLC. (Brad Nettles/postandcourier.com) 7/30/12×