Monroe Jackson wants a business with no strings attached.
The Jackson doughnut entrepreneur and survivor of a near-fatal workplace accident has added “innovator” to his life accomplishments. Next up is a marketing role for the inventor and winner of a design patent for a string-free apron he says will make working around machinery far less dangerous.
It all started with the strings of his baker’s apron catching on the twirling paddles of a 32-quart mixer as he worked alone in his bakery about 2 one morning in early 2011. The force of the blades on which the apron strings had snagged began to slam Jackson backward “until I realized what was happening and broke the string,” he said.
“After I calmed down – and I really think I could have lost my life – I got to thinking I need a better apron,” said the Delta native, who has grown Monroe’s Donuts to four Metro Jackson stores since opening his first one in 1995.
He began tossing around the idea of using elastic instead of string to close the back of the apron. A zipper could close the front, Jackson decided.
“My main motivation was to stay away from the string. But you still need an apron over your clothes. I kept thinking about it and thinking about it. Then ‘elastic’ came to me.”
With a design that completely enclosed the apron and left no parts dangling, Jackson set out to obtain a patent for his stringless apron. The lawyer he hired did an incomplete application, leaving him wondering whether he could ever market his invention.
His break came with a visit from a software salesman who formerly worked for Innovate Mississippi, a Jackson-based non-profit organization that seeks to strengthen and foster innovation in Mississippi.
Innovate Mississippi assigned Jackson a mentor and put him in touch with Baker Donelson attorney Anne Turner.
She and a colleague in her Jackson firm got the patent process back on track. The apron’s design patent became official Sept. 16.
“Monroe has a pretty good position at this time,” Turner said, and noted he is awaiting word on an application for a “utility” patent that would give Jackson exclusive use of the combination of features of the apron, not just its design.
For now, though, neither Chinese copy cats nor anyone else can clone Jackson’s apron, according to Turner.
From here, Jackson and his Innovate Mississippi partners will search out the most receptive market, said Tasha Bibb, Innovate Mississippi’s entrepreneurial development manager.
The path forward, Bibb said, is determining “which market you can get into the easiest. Who has the most immediate need for the product?”
They’ll get the marketing prospects to use the aprons and give their thoughts on how the apron can be improved for use in their particular type of business, according to Bibb.
“We’ll put some aprons out there and get some feedback,” she said.
Jackson said he sees a ready market among all sorts of prepared food sellers, including McDonald’s, Wendy’s, KFC, Popeye’s and the like.
The first product pitches likely will be to local restaurateurs and food retailers.
In the meantime, Jackson and his Innovate Mississippi partners are looking for investors.
With Innovate Mississippi’s help, Jackson has lined up Mississippi Prison Industries, which can provide more than 100 seamstresses from among inmates at Parchman.
A first batch of aprons is expected next week. Workers at his doughnut shops will be the first to get them, Jackson said.
“He is ready to sell in the next 30 days,” said Alan Crancer, Jackson’s mentor from Innovate Mississippi.
Jackson said he thinks his string-free aprons merit a prime time spot on the QVC Shopping Network. But what he really wants, he said, “is to see Martha Stewart wearing one.”
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