UMKC Innovation Center partners with the university and the community to spark and sustain entrepreneurial efforts within our region and across the country.

KCSourceLink connects KC entrepreneurs to the right resource at the right time.

MOSourceLink connects Missouri entrepreneurs to the right resource at the right time.

Whiteboard2Boardroom connects entrepreneurs and businesses to technologies available for licensing.

Digital Sandbox KC provides early-stage proof-of-concept support for digital products.

Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Center provides technical assistance to startup and existing businesses.

ScaleUP! Kansas City helps businesses with revenues around $200K scale toward their first $1 million.

Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Centers helps local businesses obtain government contracts.

KCInvestED helps investors learn more about investing in KC startups.

SourceLink® helps communities nationwide build vibrant and vital entrepreneurial ecosystems.
UMKC Innovation Center
UMKC Innovation Center
steel-table-group

How They Funded It: Garden Thorn Uses Crowfunding to Save Water, Make Money

steel-table-group
On Tuesday, April 26, “Garden Thorn: simple water saving technology” went live on Indiegogo.

Just two days later, we spoke with the team behind the Garden Thorn. By that date, the project had reached 86 percent of its $7,800 goal.

If you’re reading this, and it’s May, we hazard a guess that they’re well over 100 percent.

What is a Garden Thorn?

The Garden Thorn is a hollow spike with tiny holes in its sides. You shove it in the ground by a plant you want watered, connect a hose to it and water that plant, at its roots.

Sounds simple enough. But a lot went into it. Like a whole, whole lot.

Stan Fernald invented the Thorn. He got the idea after talking to his dad who was traveling in Israel and noticed that farmers there were able to grow luscious plants in the middle of the desert because they watered the plants at their roots.

Stan, an inventor, designer and artist, figured he could bring that idea to the United States and make some money on it. So he told his buddies about it.

The thing about Stan’s buddies is, they’re not ordinary buddies. They’re closer to a superhero team. But instead of fighting crime, they invent things.

The gang calls themselves the Steel Table Group, and this group of six men have been putting their heads together in an inventor’s paradise in North Kansas City since 2012. They’ve made some really awesome stuff—the Bandit Gun is a blast, and Deck Down sales really well in Canada, I hear.

“We meet weekly, if not more often,” says Rich Brull, founder of the Steel Table Group. “We each have a very different skill set and we help each other get stuff done.”

Rich decided to start the Group after noticing that so many of his inventor friends have great ideas, but they let procrastination get the best of them. “There are more good ideas in the graveyard than about anywhere else.”

Rich and two other members of the Group are also board members of the nonprofit Inventors Center of Kansas City (a KCSourceLink Resource Partner). “We meet once a month and a host a speaker who inspires and helps area inventors take their ideas all the way to finished product.”

Close to 80 people attend each meeting. Rich says experience levels range from I have my first idea for an invention to serial entrepreneur, “Too many people are afraid to share their ideas because they think they’ll get stolen. But it takes a lot of work to actually get a product to market. I think that the type of person who is actually going to be that passionate, isn’t going to be the same person who steals ideas.”  how kc companies fund their companies

From idea to product, in Kansas City

The Steel Table Group began developing the Garden Thorn in 2013. They went through many different prototypes before choosing a design to take to market. (You can see many of the iterations in their video.)

Once they were ready to send their baby out into the world, they contacted their friend Tom Gray who runs The Handy Camel.

The Handy Camel helps inventors make serious dough from their products. Handy Camel takes care of manufacturing, distribution, marketing, getting into big box retailers and much more. They give the inventors a royalty and let them get back to what they do best, inventing.

Tom said the Garden Thorn was an obvious fit for Handy Camel, “We’re already in the lawn and garden market, and it’s a plastic product that we can manufacture almost 100 percent in Kansas City.”

You read that right.

The Handy Camel will take the Garden Thorn worldwide from right here in KC.

“Being able to do everything here in KC is huge for us because it allows us to create jobs and we can have much better quality control,” explains Tom in his charming Australian accent, “So much can go wrong when you start importing from overseas.”

Crowdfunding as a focus group

I bet if you went back to the Garden Thorn’s Indiegogo campaign right now, they’ve already hopped up a few percentage points since you started reading this article.

The Handy Camel team is already in the process of taking the Thorn global. As Tom explains, “If [the crowdfunding campaign] goes good, it’s just a bonus for you.”

Tom and Rich echoed many of the same benefits of crowdfunding—Indiegogo has its own (huge) audience, potential customers are much more invested because they’ve already put money into the product and you can get a lot of kinks out of the system by sharing it with so many folks.

Rich mentioned that a vineyard owner in California reached out to the group with a bunch of questions they hadn’t considered yet. And Tom pointed out that if you can make improvements based off of the negative reviews that you get during the campaign, you can stop those negative reviews from someday living on your Amazon page.

Saving water, making money

Rich wants the Garden Thorn to be successful because it’ll make him and his friends some money, but also because it could potentially save a lot of water from being wasted due to runoff.

If you’re a procrastinating inventor with an idea that you want to see make you some money and make the world a better place, Rich shares some very straightforward advice, “Start asking more questions and start asking for help.”

If you’re a hopeful crowdfunder looking for pro tips, check out this article from serial entrepreneur Bryan Azorsky.

Here’s the big secret for a successful crowdfunding campaign.

Are you ready?

Have a really great product and treat your customers like royalty.






How can we help you?

Our team helps grow entrepreneurship in Kansas City every day.

Connect with us!

Get insights, inspiration and events to help you start, grow and accelerate KC businesses.

Subscribe