Finding the Inventor in You: Tips from Cherie Matthews
As the spring semester winds down at Concordia University Texas, IncubatorCTX virtually hosted the final guest for its Speaker Series, Cherie Matthews. She is the founder and CEO of Healincomfort, which provides recovery shirts for postoperative breast cancer patients who have undergone mastectomies.
Matthews shared three personal stories that provide insight into how you can release the inventor in you. "I believe that everyone is an inventor," she said, "engaging in invention, innovation and problem-solving."
IBM Staple Challenge
Beginning her career as an engineer at IBM, Matthews faced the ultimate test when she was brought into a room of IBM leaders and given one minute to determine a way to reinvent the stapler.
Doubts flooded her mind, which is what she refers to as dream stealers (thinking there's now way, no time or no possibility of achieving something). But then she remembered a problem that office managers regularly faced — tender hands after stapling papers all day. Matthews quickly developed the solution to increase the surface area of a stapler, which she demonstrated with a coaster. Her idea was successful, and it's one that's on the market today.
- Filter out distractions and dream stealers.
- Turn on the inventor in your brain. Allow yourself to think and imagine without limits (no buts allowed). Keep your ideas in a notebook.
The First Tee
Matthews then transitioned into teaching. "It's a noble calling, and I believe you can make a huge difference as a teacher," she said.
Realizing the lack of support around the sport of golf, Matthews and her best friend worked together to create a kid-friendly version of golf that uses safe equipment. The golf balls are soft and about the size of tennis balls, and they attach to a target via velcro.
Their idea was a success after test piloting it with 48 students, and it was acquired by The First Tee, an international nonprofit that teaches kids and teens golf skills while also teaching them life lessons and leadership skills. Their invention has impacted 10 million children, many of whom are going to college on full golf scholarships.
- Write down a clear purpose, describing why.
- Conduct a market study to ensure that people will buy what you're selling.
Making Good Out of Bad
Having been diagnosed with breast cancer, Matthews underwent a mastectomy. Through her experience, she realized that the post-operative garments recommended for patients lacked comfort and dignity. So she decided to meet the need, inventing the Healincomfort Recovery Shirt.
The shirt features moisture management material to keep patients dry and comfortable, velcro fasteners for easy dressing, and four internal pockets to discreetly hold surgical drains if needed.
Leveraging her engineering background, Matthews repeatedly watched a movie about Coco Chanel and reverse engineered the process for how to work with fabric. She bootstrapped the business, beginning with $1,000 and the mission to provide women with better postoperative care.
She received her first patent for the design and strategically filed for the second one to protect the organization from competitors. "I believe strongly in protecting your intellectual property," Matthews stated.
A United States Patent and Trademark Office employee called her, and the entire office gave her a standing ovation for her invention because many of their family members had been affected by breast cancer.
Now, Matthews has expanded on her invention, creating Recovery Shirt, a separate website geared for men (intentionally removing the pink that characterizes Healincomfort and replacing it with blue) who have had heart surgery, an organ transplant, shoulder surgery and any other procedure that requires recovery time.
- Solve a problem by serving a need.
- Patent your intellectual property. You can conduct a free patent search on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website.
Matthews continues to expound upon her original invention. She is on the path to incorporating technology into the shirts, allowing patients to simply scan a code and access telemedicine, augmented reality and more to help them in their recovery process.