Lorman, Miss. (January 3, 2014) - Need an eye mask and travel blanket that folds into itself?
Need to shield your clothing from deodorant stains while you dress?
You need an Alcornite.
Alcornites Dr. Margarett Bachus Wilson and Gail Mayfield Gandy each invented unique products, but their paths did not cross until after they had stood in line for hours to audition for Shark Tank, ABC’s reality show that features inventors pitching products to potential investors.
The women were standing in a hallway at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre after making their pitches when they struck up a conversation and made surprising discoveries: they are both from Mississippi and both Alcorn graduates.
“Having a patent or getting a patent is a unique experience,” Wilson said. “I don’t really run into people who have actual products they have developed … and to see someone who went to the same school and is from the same state and has a product, it was very interesting.”
“This is so unreal, so wonderful,” Gandy said.
Both women’s daughters had saved their places in line for them. Gandy was No. 34. Wilson was No. 38.
Gandy, a Waynesboro native, graduated in 1982, and Wilson, who hails from Hernando, earned her degree in 1972. The women exchanged products and fond memories of life “on the yard” and stories about professors and staff. Gandy and Wilson visit Alcorn and attend alumni events, but had never run into each other. Gandy, however, discovered her sister attended Alcorn with Wilson.
“They lived in the same dorm,” Gandy said, describing the close-knit campus environment of her sister’s era. “They were good friends. Back in the ’70s, they did not have cars (on campus). They had to walk to church.”
Each woman owes her invention — in part — to her sewing skills.
Wilson boarded a flight to London and discovered the plane was out of complimentary blankets. It was a night flight, but most people around her were reading and kept their lights on. After returning home, Wilson stitched a carry-on solution: the Snazzy Napper.
Gandy, like many women, has stained her clothing with deodorant while pulling dresses and blouses over her head. The problem was especially frustrating after her daughter stained her dress while getting ready for prom. Gandy sewed a solution: the Voila! Garment Guard, underarm protectors that easily slip off after clothing is pulled on.
The women’s inventions are in different sales phases.
Wilson, a doctor and medical consultant for the Georgia Department of Human Services in Atlanta, began running an infomercial in 2010, attracting the attention of CNN’s Jeanne Moos and prompting Ellen DeGeneres and Jimmy Fallon to feature it on their shows. Moos and the comedians were making fun of her product, but the exposure generated worldwide orders.
With a patent in hand and sales experience, Wilson went to Shark Tank to reignite her business.
Gandy, a contracting officer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Huntsville, Alabama gained patent pending status earlier this year and recently began selling her Voila! Garment Guards. A Mennonite woman whom Gandy met at a fabric store teamed with others to make the first thousand Voila! Garment Guards, but she’s still looking for a manufacturer and learning to navigate the invention business, a world where ideas are stolen and promises are broken.
She’s looking to Shark Tank to expand her business to national and international markets.
Wilson knows the frustration of struggling to find information and promised to share what she knows with Gandy. But Gandy was cautious about getting her hopes up; others had promised to help and failed to follow through.
Shortly after the two met, Gandy prayed, hoping Wilson would help her find her way. Gandy sat in her car one day and checked email on her cell phone. She found Wilson’s email with all the promised information.
“I just started crying in the car,” Gandy said. “I had prayed for this information because I had been working on this product for so long. For me to make money off of it, I really needed to have an overseas manufacturer.
“I started crying because she fulfilled that prayer,” Gandy said. “Wilson gave me everything.”
Neither has heard back from Shark Tank, but the Alcornite connection was solidified and the inventors have continued to market their products. Recently, they attended the National Minority Certification Conference in San Antonio, Texas, where they established valuable business relationships.
“We have just agreed that we are going to keep in touch, that we are going to help each other whatever way we can,” Wilson said.
After all, we are …Entrepreneurs. We are Alcorn. To purchase the Snazzy Napper, visit www.snazzynapper.com or call 877.9.SNAZZY. To purchase the Voila! Garment Guards, visit www.thegarmentguard.com or call 256.924.2468.
Alcorn State University is a premier comprehensive land-grant university that develops diverse students into globally competitive leaders, and applies scientific research through collaborative partnerships that benefit the surrounding communities, state, nation, and world.