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Edwin Slate had a product that would ensure the NFL never had another Deflategate. All he had to do was get it to the right people and make his case.
That ended up being easier said than done for the Falmouth engineer, who developed the Presscision device as a method to standardize sports ball inflation in the wake of accusations that the New England Patriots and its star quarterback, Tom Brady, were accused of knowingly using underinflated balls during a Jan. 18, 2015, AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts.
“I showed it off to a bunch of people and got a lot of excitement over it but never got anyone to bite the bullet and try it,” he said, and that included both the NCAA and the NFL.
The roadblock might have proved deflating to another entrepreneur, but Slate wasn’t ready to call it game over just yet. He had been told the plumbing industry had a need for such a device to pressure-test pipes for leakage, so it was time for a pivot.
“I switched gears,” he said. “I talked with a lot of people and found out the market is good; there are half a million plumbers in the United States.”
And he designed his new Presscision device to work in the most stringent market in the country for such plumbing tests: New York City, where natural gas pipes in new or remodeled buildings must be tested for 30 minutes to ensure they maintain a pressure of 3 pounds per square inch without a dip, which would indicate a potentially fatal leak in the system.
The tests, which are witnessed by a sanctioned inspector, are now done with an analog dial connected to a value; the $50 device is easily manipulated, cheaply manufactured and often thrown out after only a few tests, Slate said. It only leaves no record of the test having occurred or that it passed, which can open plumbers up to liability if a problem later develops.
“The plumber is one of the prime people who’s always at fault,” he said. “It’s a very, very high risk.”
Larger firms could spend $5,000 a year on the cheap pressure monitors; the Presscision, which costs about $1,000, can run precisely calibrated pressure tests and record not only the results but the time, date and location of the test, storing the data both in the computer and producing a printed record of the results.
“The test is very black-and-white. You can’t cheat it,” he said.
After developing a new prototype that would let the Presscision be used in multiple plumbing applications, including natural gas, drain waste vents, medical supply lines and fire-suppression systems, Slate went to New York City to demonstrate the device in front of a group of about 20 industry professionals at the Plumbing Foundation, a nonprofit plumbing education and advocacy group. He got encouraging feedback, enough so that he felt he was on a more promising path than the sports industry.
Through the entire process, Slate has been working with Mark Lowenstein, an adviser with small-business mentoring organization SCORE, for advice and feedback. The two have met at least monthly and continue to consult as Slate gets tantalizingly closer to getting his device out in the field.
Lowenstein said he has been continually impressed with Slate’s work ethic, especially in the face of rejection by the sports world.
“No matter how good you are and how well you think it out, there are always obstacles,” he said. “You have to sit there and say to yourself ‘What other applications for this could there be?’ People are often laser-targeted on one area when, with a few tweaks, there could be other options.”
Slate is now looking for sales representatives who can promote his product to larger plumbing companies in the New York area, which is the first market he hopes to land in. Some firms are testing the Presscision now, and he’s hoping to land a deal soon.
“It’s unique in that it has no track record,” he said. “It has no sales. It takes a unique firm to sell it.”
Until then, Slate has commissioned a small manufacturing run of 25 devices, which he’s hand-assembling in his home workshop and putting up for sale on his website. If he gets a larger order, he has a contract manufacturing firm in Rhode Island ready to get to work.
Slate has put about $60,000 of his own money into his project so far, not including the cost of his time. But he is at a point with the Presscision where, if he lands in the natural gas-testing market, the device could be modified to be used in other plumbing applications or more commercial uses he has yet to explore.
“I don’t know exactly how this scales up,” he said. “That’s the real question right now.”