The Ultimate Music Buff
Working at an auto body shop gave Joe Born an idea for fixing scratched CDs--and helped him launch a $25 million company.
(Business 2.0) - The Seemingly Unsolvable Problem: As an engineering graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin in 1992, Joe Born loved the Clint Black album Killin' Time--but the CD had become scratched, causing it to skip during the song "A Better Man." Born says, "It was like having a stone in my shoe."
The Great "Aha!": While pursuing his master's degree, Born worked part-time at an auto body shop. One day, while trying out an industrial paint buffer, he wondered if the same machine could be used to smooth out the scratches that had ruined the Clint Black CD. After all, he knew that CDs are made of the same plastic as eye-glasses--polycarbonate--and that eye-glasses can be buffed. He also knew that the data on a CD resides beneath the outer plastic layer, so the music would be safe. After polishing the damaged CD with the car buffer, he popped it into a boom box, and "A Better Man" played flawlessly. Born received a patent for the idea in 1995.
The Payoff: With investments from friends and family, Born spent almost four years perfecting his invention. (An early prototype actually scratched discs while buffing them.) Just after winning the patent, he founded Digital Innovations, in Arlington Heights, Ill., and in 1999 the company released SkipDr, a $30 disc-repair unit that is now available at retailers such as Best Buy (Research), Radio Shack, (Research) and Wal-Mart (Research). Today, Digital Innovations markets 50 products that repair and clean CDs, DVDs, videogames, and office equipment. According to the privately held company, 2005 sales were about $25 million.
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From the March 1, 2006 issue