Everett firefighter Joel Sellinger with prototypes of his invention, LifeDoor. He and his partner, Ben Docksteader, got help from the Northwest Innovation Resource Center to launch the product. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Everett firefighter Joel Sellinger with prototypes of his invention, LifeDoor. He and his partner, Ben Docksteader, got help from the Northwest Innovation Resource Center to launch the product. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

This product could save lives — if they can bring it to market

An Everett firefighter and his partner had a refined invention but needed business help — and a patent.

EVERETT — “Close before you doze” is the new “stop, drop and roll.”

In a fire, a closed door can buy an extra 10 or 12 minutes, enough time to escape, experts say.

So just close the door, right? Easier said than done.

Not even Joel Sellinger, an Everett firefighter, could get the message across to his 6-year-old daughter, Makayla. He or his wife, Kristi, would shut the door to their daughter’s room at night, only to find it wide open in the morning.

Makayla’s stubbornness inspired Sellinger to build an automatic door-closer when he couldn’t find any such device for sale.

“I just assumed there would be a product like this for the home,” he said, noting that many schools and hospitals have systems that shut the doors automatically in an emergency.

In January 2017, he and business partner Ben Docksteader went to the drawing board. Together, they built more than 20 prototypes.

“Some worked and some didn’t,” Sellinger said.

They called the company and the product Lifedoor. The device — about the size of a paperback book — attaches to an interior door with two screws. “My wife came up with the name,” Sellinger said.

When a smoke alarm goes off, the device automatically shuts the door, lights up the room, sounds a second alarm and notifies your smartphone.

No more lecturing the kids or worrying about elderly family members, Sellinger said.

This month, the startup plans to test 30 of the devices in homes across the country.

If all goes well, Lifedoor plans to engage a manufacturer to produce 5,000 of the devices, enough to supply a big-box retailer and an online store waiting in the wings, Sellinger said.

If the process sounds easy, it wasn’t. The pair encountered plenty of obstacles.

The route from idea to patent or product is different for every business, said Diane Kamionka, interim director of the Northwest Innovation Resource Center, which serves Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Island and San Juan counties.

The Bellingham-based nonprofit has been assisting entrepreneurs and inventors launch a business or bring a product to market for nearly a decade.

Everett firefighter Joel Sellinger with a prototype of his invention, LifeDoor, mounted near the door hinge behind him. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Everett firefighter Joel Sellinger with a prototype of his invention, LifeDoor, mounted near the door hinge behind him. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

“A lot of inventors and entrepreneurs will have a great idea or product, but they’ll get stuck and need help with what to do next,” Kamionka said. That’s where the center and step in and get the ball rolling again, she said.

Next month, the center will open its first innovation lab at 1001 N. Broadway in Everett.

TheLab@Everett will offer entrepreneurs and inventors a place to work, meet or consult with industry experts on staff or with its partners, Everett Community College and Washington State University Everett. The center plans to open additional labs in Arlington and Skagit County.

Sellinger found the Innovation Resource Center through an aide in the office of U.S. Rep Suzan DelBene.

From there, the center’s program director, Lara Merriam-Smith, took over.

Merriam-Smith matched Lifedoor with local apartment and business owners, who evaluated the product. The meetings helped the startup identify a target market and refine an investor pitch.

One of the best pieces of advice she gave, Sellinger said, was to hire a top-notch patent attorney.

“You don’t want someone — especially someone with a lot of resources — to come along and nab your idea,” said Merriam-Smith. “It’s important to protect your intellectual property.”

Sellinger and business partner Docksteader invested $70,000 of their own savings in the the startup. A big chunk of that was used to pay a patent lawyer, Sellinger said. “It was worth it. We filed nine patents.”

Merriam-Smith also helped Lifedoor determine how much of a stake in the business to offer an investor, based on the company’s valuation and the investment. (Think “Shark Tank.”)

She also worked with Lifedoor to fine-tune product pitches. “You have to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time” — which means different versions for different audiences, Merriam-Smith said.

Moms want to know they can sleep soundly at night if they buy the product. “That’s one message,” she said.

“Techies want to know it’s the latest gadget — that’s another.”

On the other hand, an “investor wants to know how much money they’re going to make.”

“I wish we’d known about the Resource Center sooner,” Sellinger said. “They could have helped us with a road map a little bit earlier on.”

Sellinger hopes to sell the device for $100 or less. “We’re looking forward to having Lifedoor on the market by early next year.”

And, best of all, Sellinger’s daughter, Makayla, is a fan of Lifedoor. “She’s happy I’ve stopped hounding her,” he said.

Janice Podsada: jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods

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