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Turlock teacher wins local Innovation Challenge
Ruiz to compete for $2,500 grand prize
innovation challenge pic
Elias Ruiz does some archery bowfishing on the Feather-Raft, his own invention that he entered into the Stanislaus Innovation Challenge. - photo by Photo Contributed

When Elias Ruiz ventured to San Diego to present an invention at the "Shark Tank" audition, a reality competition that allows aspiring entrepreneurs to make business presentations to a panel of potential investors, he was disappointed that he did not hear back from the show. That was until his friend discovered that he could apply for a similar competition locally: the Stanislaus Innovation Challenge.

Spearheaded by the Small Business Development Center, a subset of the Stanislaus Business Alliance, the innovation challenge was inspired by the San Joaquin Entrepreneur’s Challenge that functions along the same premise of supporting those with business ideas. With the aim of determining if local entrepreneurs' ideas have commercial potential, the Innovation Challenge has held four preliminary competitions in various communities within Stanislaus County. On Wednesday Ruiz competed in, and won, Turlock’s competition.

“I was nervous because I wanted so badly to succeed,” said Ruiz.

Ruiz presented the Feather-Raft, an eight foot by four foot composite foam structure coated in a polymer plastic designed to float steadily on the water. A self-proclaimed “huge outdoorsman” who enjoys waterfowl hunting and archery bowfishing, Ruiz conceived of the Feather-Raft in 2008, and designed his first raft out of plywood and two liter bottles. He has since refined his model, adding two bucket seats to the raft, which serve as storage and also swivel 360 degrees, a useful component when looking down into the water to fish.

“People first started to ask me how I made it and then it got to a point where they were wondering why I bought it,” said Ruiz. “I started thinking I could really see this becoming something.”

Ruiz promptly filed for intellectual property rights to attain trademark and patent privileges. The entire project was done in Ruiz' spare time, as he is a seventh grade math and science teacher at Dutcher Middle School.

“I can’t handle the massive production, but it’s been in our mind to get to a place where we can do that,” said Ruiz who receives calls from across the country for his item.

Having perfected his raft he stated that as far as winning the challenge, “the timing would be perfect.”

Ruiz will be competing against fellow winners of Modesto, Oakdale, and Patterson innovation challenges for a shot at $2,500 and the same amount in professional services.

The Modesto, Oakdale, Patterson, and Turlock winners will compete from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Dec. 10 at the Small Business Development Center Office in Modesto, located at 1020 10th Street Suite 102.