Another water-sport product invented by Chen is called the Roll-Up Sail. Targeted to standup paddlers, the sail attaches to any paddle and allows paddlers to sail when there’s wind and paddle when there’s not. Although many of Inventist’s products are manufactured off-shore due to quantity and pricing factors, the Roll-Up Sail is made in Hood River.
An avid chef, Chen also has created gadgets to make cooks’ lives easier. One example is the Leantisserie – a free-standing, battery-powered rotisserie that fits inside a standard oven, or can be used on camping trips or at the park. Cleanup is as simple as putting it in the dishwasher.
Many of Chen’s inventions are transportation related. His favorite is the Orbitwheel – like a skateboard, but with a much larger wheel that can travel over grass. Chen admitted that it “takes some time to learn,” but once you do, he said “it goes pretty fast, and is a good sport.”
Solowheel is one of Inventist’s most popular products. It is a gyro-stabilized electric unicycle that takes about a half-hour to learn to ride, and is compact enough to carry like a briefcase. It has a range of about 10 miles, and charges the battery when it is braking or free-wheeling downhill.
“You feel like the whole world is yours, with the freedom to go anywhere you want,” said Chen.
Electric bicycles are popular outside the U.S., causing global Solowheel sales to climb. Unfortunately, the number of knockoffs – as many as 60,000 – is also growing. Chen said he was in litigation with some Chinese companies, and is also spinning off all his electric transportation inventions into a separate company.
“We have to get bigger to survive. If we don’t do something, we’ll be buried by the knockoffs,” said Chen.
Another invention that will be part of the new company is Hovertrax, which is designed for indoor personal transport, such as at airports or in warehouses. Each of the two wheels has its own motor and is equipped with a gyro sensor and an accelerometer. The first production models of Hovertrax, said Chen, will be ready in a month or two.
Inventing is the easy part of his job, said Chen. Marketing is harder. For some of his inventions, such as the Power Wing (a three-wheeled scooter), Chen has sold the idea to a third-party (in this case, Razor), which pays royalties. For other products, he uses sales reps from other companies. And media coverage helps generate sales, as well, Chen said.
Part of marketing is coming up with a good name. Chen said he was still looking for the “real” name for Hovertrax, as well as for a human-powered, easy-to-learn unicycle that he is now calling the Legwheel.
“Our mission is to develop sports-related products that are genuinely new, fun to use, and add an element of fitness at the same time,” said Chen.