Dutcher Middle School teacher by day and Feather Raft inventor by night, Elias Ruiz, took home the grand price of $2,500 cash Wednesday evening as the winner of the first annual Stanislaus County 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 held four preliminary competitions in various communities within Stanislaus County including Modesto, Patterson, and Oakdale. Ruiz competed against the winners of these regional competitions on Wednesday evening where his raft, designed for waterfowl hunting and archery bowfishing, took center stage.
“I think we had a lot of good things in our favor,” reflected Ruiz, noting that getting intellectual property rights and patents in order for the Feather-Raft over the past two years has proved beneficial. “I was trying to get the legal foundation set rather than just cranking out products.”
The Feather-Raft, an eight foot by four foot wide composite foam structure coated in a polymer plastic, is designed to float steadily on the water. A self-proclaimed “huge outdoorsman,” 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.
To date he has sold 19 Feather-Rafts directly to market and with the $2,500 prize Ruiz plans to purchase some CAD (computer-aided-design) drawings of universal parts that will reduce the labor on his part and expedite creation of the rafts.
“We already had that in mind for months but I didn’t really have the contacts or money to do it,” said Ruiz.
Now that he has both professional services and funds at his disposal, what is next for Ruiz?
“Hopefully wholesale them to retailers,” said Ruiz. “We will expand as much as we can from here. I don’t know how fast it will grow, but we will start locally trying to create vendor accounts and hopefully hit the big box retail locations from there.”