An inventor-entrepreneur mindset

AN inventor is someone who always asks why and who looks at everything as a problem waiting for a solution, says Robest Yong, 55. And a problem for which you have a solution could be an idea for a business, no? After all, Yong once invented an instant rubber stamp machine when he placed an order for a rubber stamp and was told he would have to wait for a whole week.

“When people see something falling apart, generally they would ignore it because it’s not their ‘problem’. A good Samaritan might help because this would be doing a good deed, but an inventor would ask: Why did it fall apart in the first place,” Yong says.

An inventor himself, Yong filed his first patent, the instant rubber stamp machine, in 1991. He says a culture of experimenting and questioning is vital if we are to encourage creativity and problem-solving savvy among the populace. “I’m lucky that I came from a large family of 11 siblings and was allowed to try things out on my own, from keeping pets such as fish and rabbits and making the tanks and cages to keep them,” he recalls. After completing his secondary education, Yong worked at a printing company specialising in offset printers as an apprentice. This was in 1976, and he was 16. Yong was given the opportunity to undergo training in Japan during his time with the company, and the experience left an impression on him.

“I was amazed by the innovation culture in Japan. A cleaner could propose to higher management on what can be done to improve a product, and get recognised for it, while over here it is likely that the cleaner would be told to ‘just do what you’re paid for’,” he says.

Yong was a senior technician when he left the company in 1989, keen to venture out on his own. That same year, he set up his company, Print Shop Supplier, which offered printing services and accessories. One of the things he needed upon setting up shop was a rubber stamp for the company name, so Yong went to shop to make one. He was told it would take a week before his order was ready.

“I couldn’t believe him, but they showed me the tedious process. It required that someone to pick out the letters, place them on a rubber plaster mould, burn the rubber sheet in, then wait for it to cool to produce the relief piece of the rubber stamp pad. I thought there had to be an easier way.

“How can a rubber stamp that cost only RM5 require one week to make?” he asks, incredulous.

And so while running his new business, Yong worked on producing a prototype to address this question.

Using his earlier experience as a printer technician, he used the photo-polymerisation technique and created a compact design, first by using planks and later using metal to make his instant rubber stamp machine. With the machine the whole process of making his rubber stamp took just 10 minutes.

Yong filed the patent for his invention in 1991. In 1994, he participate in an invention fair in Switzerland and showed off his instant rubber stamp machine. He received 100 orders immediately. The machine costing RM3,800 was marketed locally and in countries such as Russia, Japan, the US and Africa.

Encouraged, Yong went on to develop other things, like fertilisers and a perforated screen protector that enables the blind to utilise apps on touch screens. In 2001, he set up Prodigious Innovations Sdn Bhd to focus on promoting creativity among students in secondary schools and universities. Yong says that what “invention” and “innovation” actually mean is a perennial debate, with some people defining innovation as small improvements whilst invention is looked upon as big improvements.

“How should we define what is ‘big’ and what is ‘small’?” he asks.

Yong’s own take is that innovation is a “recipe” whereas invention would be the finished product — the “cake”, so to speak. Adding that an inventor is like a chef who creates a good meal from the ingredients available, he says children should be given the encouragement to experiment with things rather than be taught to conform to what can or cannot be done.

“When they are young, they can experiment with simple things, and when they grow up and have more knowledge, they could apply them to bigger things,” he concludes.

Sourced from: The Star |9 November 2015