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Inventionland helps build new products, entrepreneurs

| Saturday, June 13, 2015, 8:03 p.m.
In this file photo from May 2015, Inventionland Institute President Nathan Field posed in front of the 'Inventalot' castle at the institute's Pittsburgh headquarters.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
In this file photo from May 2015, Inventionland Institute President Nathan Field posed in front of the 'Inventalot' castle at the institute's Pittsburgh headquarters.
The 'workshop' at Inventionland.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
The 'workshop' at Inventionland.
In this file photo from May 2015, finished products dangle as they move along a track on the ceiling at Inventionland in Pittsburgh.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
In this file photo from May 2015, finished products dangle as they move along a track on the ceiling at Inventionland in Pittsburgh.
The 'pirate ship' at Inventionland.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
The 'pirate ship' at Inventionland.
The 'treehouse' at Inventionland.
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
The 'treehouse' at Inventionland.

Inventions make our world better, smarter, more efficient and — in some cases — more fun.

If you've ever hatched an idea for a fabulous new invention but didn't know where to turn, all roads lead to Pittsburgh's Inventionland.

As the corporate headquarters of Davison Design & Development, Inventionland has helped create products that have been sold in more than 1,200 retail and online stores for more than a decade.

Retail partners include Sears, Walmart, Target, QVC, Home Depot, Cabela's and others.

Nicknamed an “idea incubator,” Inventionland builds an approved invention to specifications and then presents it to the manufacturer. After a signed agreement, mass production begins offsite at the manufacturer's facility.

The company receives more than 10,000 idea submissions per month. Everyday folks can submit their invention ideas. One of the newest inventions — a lining inside traditional cookie-baking pans filled with crushed jade to prevent burning — sold out in three minutes on QVC.

Oh, and by the way, the company recognizes failure as a good thing.

George Davison, CEO of Davison, grew up in Oakmont playing in his treehouse during the 1960s and '70s, dreaming of doing something unique with his life.

A natural entrepreneur from a young age, Davison was the child selling candy to his classmates when others were content to just eat the sweets.

A rock-star academic student, he attended Shady Side Academy and graduated from The Kiski School, a boarding school in Saltsburg. He received numerous college offers including an opportunity to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. Staying local, Davison chose Allegheny College in Meadville; graduating in 1986 with a degree in economics and a minor in computer science.

With his entrepreneurial spirit fully engaged, he embarked on a two-year invention idea: developing a product that would sanitize toothbrushes. After spending more than $32,000, he says corporate giant Hamilton Beach beat him to the market with a similar product.

Failure led to success as Davison went on to create a process for invention. Reinventing inventing and making it affordable to the masses would earn him the nickname “The Henry Ford of Invention.”

A successful inventor with more than 20 patents, Davison developed The Davison Inventing Method. This method involves a nine-step process under one roof to increase productivity and provide a one-stop-shopping invention incubator. Davison employs 250 employees who help everyday people create and present their ideas to manufacturers, corporations and retailers for possible licensing.

Influenced by his three heroes, Walt Disney, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, Davison founded Davison Design & Development. From humble beginnings in the basement of his grandfather's home in Oakmont to the current RIDC park location in O'Hara, Davison Design celebrated 25 years in business in 2014.

Services include product-patent research, prototype development, packaging design and licensing representation.

Taking a tour of Inventionland, you lose yourself in a fantasy world of various environments.

There are no boring generic cubicles here; 16 uniquely themed sets await employees making a daily 9-to-5 grind feel more like fun time.

Constructed in 2006, Inventionland has earned global praise and recognition; including a feature in the 2008 Ripley's Believe It or Not annual, “The Remarkable Revealed.”

The History Channel aired “Inventionland” in 2011, a special about the idea incubator that starred Davison.

From a shipwrecked pirate ship to a turreted castle named Inventalot that comes complete with a drawbridge fit for King Arthur, workers are tucked away in each themed office.

Nathan Field, president and executive director of design at Inventionland for the past 14 years, slid down a long slide as he emerged from a treehouse office that is larger than life.

After graduating from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh with an industrial-design degree, Field took the job at Inventionland expecting to work there for a year.

“It was going to be a resume-builder,” Field says. “Only, years later, here I am, and Inventionland is never finished.”

Field was there in 2005 alongside Davison when construction began on Inventionland. The cost of production? “Several millions,” Field says.

Strolling through the expansive office world on a recent visit, one is enthralled by real waterfalls, lifelike trees, grass-lined sidewalks, a house shaped like a giant cupcake and even a giant robot.

Each set is named and designed to reflect the product-development activity within. For example, the giant robot-themed office works on consumer electronics. The Inventalot Castle, where daily meetings for employees also occur, novelty items and seasonal gift items are created.

Employees working in the Creation Cavern, which reminds one of the prehistoric dinosaur age, design outdoor goods including hunting, fishing and hiking products.

“We have a lot of fun here,” says Field, who has been with the business since its beginning, when they had 30 employees. He says, jokingly, that it is the Walmart of inventing.

Inventionland has the capability to “provide solutions to problems through inventions,” Field says.

The state-of-the-art production facility offers metalworking, woodworking, molding, laser cutting, prototyping, circuit-board construction and more; and in the back of the 61,000-square-foot business a red carpet leads to a cutting-edge art, video and animation studio. One of the largest green screens in the tri-state area alongside a sound room provides for in-house videos and marketing projects.

The latest endeavor for Inventionland has an academic-outreach mission.

Bringing imagination, innovation and invention to the classroom, this project-based curriculum, dubbed Inventionland Institute, is part of Inventionland's ongoing commitment to higher learning.

Field has spent the past seven years devoted to developing an academic curriculum for grades 6 to 12. He has worked with DuBois Business College, The Kiski School and South Fayette's Middle School STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) program implementing this entrepreneurial class.

The course, offered via online classes at inventionlandinstitute.com and visits to Inventionland, is dedicated to helping students learn how to follow through with their big ideas.

“This is my baby,” Field says. “Teachers would always inquire about curriculum offerings when the students would tour Inventionland on field trips. This is a natural extension of what we do at Inventionland. The students really love this concept — especially those interested in entrepreneurship.”

The program, which was accredited six months ago by the DuBois Business School and also is STEAM certified, offers semester-long courses. Teachers attend Inventionland Institute workshops to learn about the curriculum.

Utilizing Davison's nine-step method to inventing, his alma mater, The Kiski School, piloted the program with 11 seniors enrolling in the course in 2014.

The students were required to build an actual product sample, create an infomercial for their new product and, finally, pitch their product to a panel of judges (in a “Shark Tank” type of format) at Inventionland.

“We look forward to seeing how our students will apply their newly learned and state-of-the-art problem-solving and entrepreneurial skills,” says Jackie Syktich, president and CEO of Dubois Business College.

Davison is a strong supporter of charities and community outreach.

“Most curriculums just present students with a problem that has a predetermined solution,” Davison says. “This new project-based curriculum teaches kids how to identify a problem and then walks them through how to create their own custom solution to that problem. I'm really excited to see where this goes.”

Details: inventionland.com

Joyce Hanz is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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