BENJAMIN TREVIÑO | STAFF WRITER
It was a simple problem, but it left Juan Guerrero frustrated. The maquila engineer retiree wanted to locate a stud in a wall to mount a TV. He had an electronic stud finder, but he didn’t have the user instructions for it.
“It had so many adjustments and it was just too difficult,” Guerrero recalled. “So I put it aside and I started using a nail and started making holes until I could find the stud. That’s when I started looking for a better way.”
About two years ago, he watched a work crew using a single, small magnet to locate nails and screws in the studs at his daughter’s house.
“I thought that was a good idea,” Guerrero said. “But with only one magnet, it could take a long time. I came up with the idea of using several magnets together and let them kind of float inside a frame. So I started coming up with different versions of it.”
For nearly two years, Guerrero bought raw materials at different stores and began cobbling together various prototypes. He started with a foam version, then he used two rulers wrapped in plastic to hold a series of magnets. Later, he added a bubble level that could be used as a handle for his device. To mass produce his invention, Guerrero turned to a friend who had experience in computer assisted design and a brother in Alabama who had access to a 3-D printer. All the while Guerrero kept tweaking his invention, until we came up with a working prototype.
Besides his own perseverance, Guerrero says it was the help of friends that helped him succeed.
“That’s how I’ve been working on this, bringing people in to help me instead of trying to do everything by myself,” Guerrero said. “A friend helped me locate source material for parts at a cheaper price. I also needed somebody to help me with the business end of it. There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs, so get help from people who buy into your idea.”
“Juan has a great team around him,” said Steve Alhenius, president and CEO of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. “And his idea is so simple that even a six year old can use it. His key right now is getting his stuff patented before he starts selling it, but every time I’ve shown his idea to folks, they ask where they can buy it. It’s just a really cool idea.”
Winning the chamber’s Innovation Grant Award will allow Guerrero to take the next step toward deploying his EZ Stud Finder in the market, which is to purchase a soft-tool mold that will allow him to mass produce his invention. At age 69, Guerrero says he’s proof that you don’t have to be young to come up with new ideas. But the key, he says, is to surround yourself with people who will push you forward and not hold you back.
“Don’t get discouraged,” said Guerrero. “Don’t listen to people who say you can’t do it. Ignore that kind of advice. Only listen to those who offer advice on how to make your idea better. They’re giving you some light with that heat.”
For more on the McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s Innovation Grant Awards and other programs designed to help budding entrepreneurs, visit: www.mcallen.org/business-community/innovation.