Former bakery employee uses ingenuity, Hawkeye degree to make his dreams a reality
Brian Mauer is a problem solver. He prides himself on coming up with inventive ways to fix things, whether it’s a rigging to elevate a children’s playhouse or helping his daughter with an Invent Iowa project that developed into a patented insulated window system.
For many years, invention was a fun but secondary part of Mauer’s life. The Denver resident worked for 25 years as a sales representative for Wonder Bread in the Waterloo area. He worked 70-75 hours a week for the bakery, developing his ideas and inventions when he could. In 2012, the bakery closed, leaving Mauer with the ultimate question: How do you reinvent your career?
Brian Mauer of Denver, holds a Styrigger, a kayak and canoe stabilization unit, after production began at K&M Manufacturing in West Branch.
After talking with his family, Mauer decided it was time to focus on his latest invention – a kayak stabilization unit.
“My wife said ‘If you’re going to make this happen, now is the time,’” he recalls. Mauer already had the dream, but to make it a reality, he knew he needed an education. A few months later, he was enrolled at Hawkeye Community College.
Mauer enrolled full time in Hawkeye’s Marketing Management program. The concept for his invention was solid, but he needed to learn how to market a business. The Marketing Management program gave Mauer experience with writing a business plan, developing marketing strategies, and setting up a small business. The business plan he finalized with the help of business instructor Todd Stabenow earned him $5,000 at the finals of the Pappajohn New Venture Statewide Student Business Plan competition held May 2, 2014, in Des Moines.
Computer skills were another crucial part of Mauer’s education, something he admits he was sorely lacking before Hawkeye.
“I could send emails, I could turn it on, but beyond that I didn’t know,” he said. He found support from classmates and from business professor Sharon Buss, whose class taught him how to use programs like Publisher and Word to put his ideas on paper. Mauer also worked on marketing concepts in assistant professor Mark Ryan’s classes.
“I got a lot of good advice from Mark on things I should be doing while at Hawkeye to be successful,” he said.
Brian Mauer tests out his invention, the Styrigger, on a canoe. Mauer developed the idea for the Styrigger while still working for Wonder Bread. When the Waterloo factory closed in 2012, he enrolled at Hawkeye Community College to gain the business and marketing skills to develop his idea into a business. “Going back to school gave me the confidence to tackle this now,” he said.
While at Hawkeye, Mauer designed his business card; finalized the logo for his company, Crane Creek Canoes; and trademarked his invention’s name: Styrigger (combining the words safety and outrigger). He graduated from Hawkeye in 2014 with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Marketing Management. He says the connections he made at Hawkeye helped him get his business going and gave him the confidence to push forward.
“I haven’t done it before, but at least I know what to do,” he said. “Going back to school gave me the confidence to tackle this now.”
Since graduation, Mauer has continued developing his brand. A few months after graduation, TV host Mike Rowe, who was in Iowa filming a segment for the CNN series Somebody’s Gotta Do It, tested the Styrigger at Palisades-Kepler State Park near Mt. Vernon.
Production began in July 2015 at K & M Manufacturing in West Branch. The kayak and canoe Styriggers are available for preorder online.
The original Styrigger model is designed to attach to a traditional kayak or canoe. Once sales begin, Mauer plans to expand to selling kayaks and canoes built with the Styrigger incorporated into the design.
– Jason Staker