Mechanical engineering sophomore Elan Timmons has been an inventor since he was seven years old. His first invention involved a pedal that was connected to the locking mechanism on his door so he could open it without using his hands.
“I like looking at a problem and thinking that there is no solution for that problem right now,” Timmons said. “How do I make a solution from scratch? Coming up with a solution is really exciting.”
The KeyZ, Timmons’ first venture into creating a product for sale, has been both a huge success and learning experience. It has a backing of more than $31,000 on Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website, and a team of Cal Poly marketing students behind it.
Ben Berliner, a close friend of Timmons and the text and video editor for the KeyZ project, can attest to Timmons’ innovative spirit.
“Ever since I have known Elan, he has created ingenious, clever devices,” Berliner said. “Even going back to seventh grade, he made inventions that won the school science fair. I knew that whatever he was designing would be remarkable.”
Although Timmons has been tinkering and innovating all of his life, he had never taken an invention to production. But this year, that changed. He decided to gain the experience on his own time.
“I thought that I would learn how to do that at Cal Poly,” he said, “but then I realized after my first year that I wasn’t going to learn that, so I thought I might was well think of a product to make and learn how to bring it to market.”
Timmons started by writing a list of all the inventions he could make, mostly listing common annoyances and problems others face on a daily basis. He narrowed it down to what would be practical — something he could design by himself and didn’t contain too many parts.
What he came up with is now called the KeyZ, an answer to the problem of a bulky key ring.
“It is basically a swiss army knife for your keys,” Timmons said. “It is a better, more functional, more stylish, classier way to carry your keys. It has all the tools, and more than you will need, on you all the time.”
The most basic KeyZ features space to hold approximately four to six keys, a 32-gigabyte USB, five different size hex wrenches and a bit holder all located in the handle. With the purchase of a multi-tool, it can also contain two screwdrivers, a pry bar, a box opener, a 1/4-inch ruler, a centimeter ruler, five hex wrenches and a bottle opener.
The KeyZ made its way onto Kickstarter on Oct. 25 and will continue to raise funds until Dec. 2. With a goal of raising $21,000, Timmons and students from the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship have raised more than $31,000 as of publication.
“It has been nice having other Cal Poly students fill in where I lack,” he said. “That’s what is so great about this school; there is someone who knows how to do something that you can’t and through different clubs you are able to find them.”
One student currently helping Timmons is business administration freshman Jacob Altishin. But the team of students involved with KeyZ is more than just business administration and engineering students.
“As we are building our team, one of the things that is important to him and me is that we have diversity,” Altishin said. “We go out of our way to bring in not just business majors but also engineers, students from the College of Liberal Arts — bring in the whole school.”
Before Altishin got involved with KeyZ, Timmons was doing the marketing himself.
“He put his heart and soul into marketing this product,” Altishin said. “Before I got here, he was spending hours and hours every day trying to gain popularity and making those phone calls, setting up those meetings. It definitely helped us out when the marketing team came on board.”
Currently, Timmons and his team hold the record for the most money raised on Kickstarter for a product among current Cal Poly students, Altishin said. Only two Cal Poly Kickstarters have raised more money, but they were completed by alumni.
One of Timmons first goals after completing the final design was to reach out to manufacturers to make unique parts that he designed using SolidWorks, a 3-D mechanical CAD (computer-aided design) program.
“Half of the battle was convincing manufacturers that I wasn’t wasting their time, that I meant business and actually had a plan that I was executing,” Timmons said.
Timmons started to receive phone calls from businesses, which was one of the benefits of raising awareness on the Kickstarter page.
“It is really exciting thinking that I am just a college student and real companies are asking to be partners with my company,” he said.
Another important aspect of the creating a product is making sure designs are protected from other people. However, Timmons doesn’t generally buy into the patent concept, he said.
“I strongly believe that competition breeds innovation,” Timmons said. “Initially, I stayed away from patenting because I am open to the idea of people competing with me. I think that it keeps you on your toes to have that kind of competition. People deserve to have the best product out there.”
Although Timmons does not foresee himself applying for a patent for KeyZ itself, he is considering one for the uniquely designed screws used for securing the frame of the handle.
“The screws are the only thing that I have thought about patenting, because they are something that can have other applications, but it all depends on having money to protect a patent,” he said.
The next steps in Timmons’ timeline for KeyZ include placing the shipments for all of the parts depending on the number of backers who pre-ordered the product on the Kickstarter. Backers should receive their KeyZ by February.
KeyZ is the first product coming from Timmons’ company called ET-Designs. In the future, he hopes to expand into more innovative products.
“When I leave Cal Poly, I don’t want to apply to a job,” Timmons said. “I want to have created my own job already. I really want to be able to start my own company, whether it be in the product development field which would be really exciting or any other field.”