Not all inventors go back 4,000 years to find stimulus for new ideas. But then, Mark Melni of Melni Connectors is not your run of the mill inventor. In addition to running a family electronics business for 20 years, Mark is a classically trained pianist who published the “Lost Arts” album with his son, Paul. This renaissance man is an example of a new type of Idaho business person – the “Inventrepreneur” –  who combines the innovative mind of the inventor with the drive, passion, vision and business sense of the entrepreneur. Combining the mindset of the Inventrepreneur with the skills and experience of the TechHelp New Product Development (NPD) Team at Boise State proved to be a recipe for success for Melni.
Melni produces a variety of electrical connectors.

Melni produces a variety of electrical connectors.

Existing Situation:

finger trap

Chinese Finger Trap. The harder you pull, the more it grips.

Having spent most of his adult life working with computers and wires and his hands, it pained Mark Melni to see his staff at Microchips Etc wear out their hands crimping wires in the traditional manner. He knew there had to be a better way. His mind latched on to the idea of the Chinese finger trap as a potential way to join wires together. The finger trap is a simple device that traps the victim’s index fingers in both ends of a small cylinder woven from bamboo. Trying to pull the fingers out only tightens the trap. In the summer of 2007, Mark built on this concept and created The Melni Electrical Connector in his garage. This revolutionary invention contains an electrically-conductive spiral that grips stripped wires, cables and other elongated elements and securely connects them.  To develop the finger trap concept into to a UL approved electrical connector that can withstand 41,000 volts of electricity, Mark connected with the TechHelp New Product Development (NPD) Team at Boise State.

Mark Melni accepts Spirit of Continuous Innovation Award from TechHelp Director, Steve Hatten.

Mark Melni (L) accepts the Spirit of Continuous Innovation Award from TechHelp Director, Steve Hatten.

Solution:

The TechHelp NPD Team provided assistance using a diverse mix of mechanical engineers, professors, engineering students and an artist. The team helped Mark evolve his concept using 3D modeling and solid prototyping into a patented, finished product.

  • NPD worked with Melni to finalize design parameters and materials using SolidWorks. This sped up the development process by allowing Melni to test materials and design options virtually before transitioning to solid prototypes.
    Melni Solar Connectors

    Melni Solar Connectorsactually having to build prototypes. NPD later used a 3D printer (SLA) to build a series of prototype iterations to test form, fit and function of the connector.

  • TechHelp’s NPD artist, Blaise Lawless, produced “show ready” prototypes that Melni used to market his idea with customers and at trade shows.  The VP of a major distributor thought the prototype was the real thing.
  • NPD helped Melni sort through UL testing requirements and worked with Melni to conduct tests based on UL 486 guidelines. NPD acted as the main point of contact with testers, lawyers and manufacturers for technical details on the connector designs. NPD also helped Melni refine designs that would improve function based on field testing and to adapt the connector to other applications.

Results:

  • In January of 2015, Melni got his product into the hand of the President of the United States who was visiting the New Product Development Lab at Boise State.
  • In April of 2015, Melni earned an appearance on Shark Tank and landed a large investment from Shark, Mark Cuban.
  • Melni has a patented product that he is marketing to customers including one of the largest electrical connector companies in the industry.
  • Melni’s success led to his hiring or retaining six employees.
  • Melni saved costs of $1,000 and investment of $250,000 and made productive investments in plant, equipment & information systems of $87,000.
    President Obama Holds Melni Connector While Addressing Lab Manager, Calvin Allan, and Lab Specialist, Chris Brown with Dean Amy Moll in Background.

    President Obama Holds a Melni Battery Terminal While Addressing New Product Development Lab Manager, Calvin Allan, and Lab Specialist, Chris Brown. COEN Dean Amy Moll is just behind the President’s left shoulder.

  • Melni’s initial purchase order of $550,000 exceeded first year projection by 10,000 units and will be produced in Meridian and Twin Falls, Idaho.
  • Melni received U.S. Patent # 7794255 in 2010 with a turnaround of only 13 months. He has generated four patents in three years.
  • Melni LLC was voted the 2010 Entrepreneurial Idol for the State of Idaho and awarded the $10,000 1st prize.
  • The Melni product pipeline has grown to include a Solar Connector, a Modular Connector, a Battery Terminal, a Lug Terminal, a Zap Nut Connector and an Immediate Response Connector.

Melini connectors have become the fastest most efficient way to connect wires. The goal is to completely eliminate crimp connectors. Melni products are changing the standards in electrical connection technology. The patented devices are revolutionizing the electrical industry by offering a faster, safer and cost-effective way to transfer power. These innovative alternatives were designed to allow for quick and reliable connectivity without the need for specialized tools or timely processes.

Client Quote:

“As great as they were, I wonder what Tesla or Edison might have done with a resource like the TechHelp New Product Development Team at Boise State. The NPD Team has always been a great resource to me. Without them, the Melni Connectors would still be just an idea in my head.  They’re knowledgeable and can provide a range of unique services at a decent price. It’s been a pleasure working with them! Our product is disruptive and ‘out-of-the-box’ and we feel that the ONLY source for true innovation in bringing our idea (invention) to the market is TechHelp and the New Product Development Lab at Boise State.”

Mark Melni, Owner, Melni Connectors