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Developer of New Fitness Device Advances His Invention with a Corporate Partnership

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By Stacy Gilliam  

Rob Lee Johnson has plans to help sharpen today's athletes into first-class sports figures. But he's no fitness trainer or coach; he's an inventor whose love of athletics inspired a big idea: The Flex Nimbo.  A full-body workout device, the Flex Nimbo (http://www.flexnimbo.com/) is low-load, high-speed training. It uses a harness laced with rubber bands, attaches to the hands and feet, and moves with the body, adding resistance to any action from running to wrestling to boxing. "I wanted to create something for young athletes that wouldn't cause injuries, that allowed freedom of movement," says Johnson, 44, president of New Flex Generation Inc., a company he started last year in Akron, Ohio.

The Flex Nimbo surfaced in May 2005, and the fruits of Johnson's "sweat equity" have been rolling in steadily. He invested $50,000 of his life savings into his invention, but his biggest fortune thus far came by way of an "angel," or strategic partner, who propelled his product from idea to reality. Johnson also applied for two patents and trademark and copyright protection. At the time of this article, both patents were pending.

Two years ago, in need of an industrial sewing machine to complete the Flex Nimbo, Johnson walked into A1 Industrial Covers on a whim. He had a functional prototype and found a believer in the company's owner Joseph F. Rubino. Rubino, a former bodybuilder and Navy SEAL, and Johnson, an athlete and former martial artist, clicked immediately through their common interest in sports and fitness. The meeting inspired Rubino to test Johnson's invention, which Johnson calls the future of athletic training, and Rubino ultimately offered him the help he needed to take off.

Inventors fantasize about this kind of support. Next to the financial and time-saving benefits, strategic partnerships allow the smaller business owner to leave the specialized work in the hands of experts and achieve business goals more efficiently.

To find the right corporate partnership, inventors and small business owners should look for corporations with goals and objectives similar to their own. Johnson made a smart move collaborating with A1 Industrial Covers, a 35-year-old sewing company that handles heavy-duty sewing jobs for the military and other businesses. He was also smart to approach Rubino with a prototype, something potential partners expect. Entrepreneurs looking for a corporate partner should also have a rehearsed sales pitch that explains the benefits of his or her product for the end-user first, and then discusses the features of the product.

Usually, partnerships between corporations and small companies take one of three forms: independent contracting, a joint venture, or the investment model. In the independent contracting model, the small business develops a product or service and then licenses it to a corporation for a fee or royalty. In a joint venture, both companies contribute expertise, money, and labor, and take a percentage of the net revenues. With the investment model, the corporation buys a percentage of the small company's stock and in return, gives the small company money and services for product develop and marketing.

New Flex Generation Inc. and A1 Industrial Covers have established a joint venture of sorts. Rubino says he has no financial interest in Johnson's company and considers himself Johnson's mentor rather than partner. A1 has helped Johnson produce more than 200 Flex Nimbo harnesses and educated him on the ins and outs of manufacturing. Rubino, who has provided Johnson access to his machinery and laborers for two years, says "I could see it before it was fully developed. I could see the future in it from day one."


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