product development company seeks to invent next big thing from the heart of lakewood

When Tim Hayes told his family as a kid that he wanted to make a cardboard box fly, they laughed at him. Yet decades later, he drew on those childhood experiences to help name his two-year-old product development company after the kind of imaginative, "blue sky" thinking that he exhibited on that day. 

Cardboard Helicopter Product Development, as it is now called, might just be inventing the next big consumer product right from the heart of Lakewood.

"I've wanted to be an inventor forever," says Hayes, an industrial designer who started the company with two childhood friends that he's known for years, Sean Barry and Carlo Russo, and fellow Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) grad Mustafa Kalic. "That's kind of why I went to school, to do my own thing one day."

Although Cleveland isn't as well known for product development as coastal cities like San Francisco, and Hayes has watched dozens of talented coworkers leave the area over the years, the landscape is shifting. Companies are more open to ideas from outside than in the past, thanks in part to the trend of open innovation. Essentially, Cardboard Helicopter's founders spend their days pitching ideas to companies, in hopes that they'll get a chance to create the next big thing.

Hayes explains that the business is broken into three parts: contract industrial design for hire, where Cardboard Helicopter helps design a product that's already sketched out; product licensing, where the firm designs a product from scratch and then attempts to license it with a company; and manufacturing, where the company attempts to create its own products.

The company's 6,000-square-foot headquarters on Detroit in Lakewood's west end provide a veritable playground for dreaming up and creating new ideas. The upstairs is an open-space studio with a ping pong table and pool table "to help get the blood flowing once in a while," says Hayes. The downstairs has a shipping area, large kitchen and shop where products can be built and tested.

Hayes and most of his coworkers live in Lakewood and enjoy walking or biking to work. The company recently has done work for Enerco and Jokari, among others.

"In the next five years, we'll hopefully have hundreds of licensed products," says Hayes. "We're able to do everything at a very low cost, because we have industrial design resources here. [We're] about keeping creative talent here. I went to school and just watched everybody leave, but there are so many manufacturing companies here. I think people can stay here and have longevity."

Read more articles by Lee Chilcote.

Lee Chilcote is the author of the poetry chapbooks The Shape of Home and How to Live in Ruins. His writing has been published by Vanity Fair, Next City, Belt and many literary journals as well as in The Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook, The Cleveland Anthology and A Race Anthology: Dispatches and Artifacts from a Segregated City. He is a founder and former executive director of Literary Cleveland. He lives in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood of Cleveland with his family.
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