By TED CARTER
Martin McCurtis is warming to the notion that he seems about to introduce a product breakthrough to the hair dryer industry.
It’s taken him 10 years, but the Jackson State engineering alum has figured out how to angle a dryer’s airflow to cut the time a woman – or a man with a lot of hair – must spend under a hooded dryer.
His “Momentum Hair Dryer” has received a Utility Patent from the U.S. Patent Office and undergone industry testing that shows it can dry hair from 50 percent to 53 percent faster than conventional hooded dryers.
The Momentum Dryer is also fresh off a first place finish at the May 19 Innovate Mississippi Ventures Challenge in the hardware category that drew 35 other competitors. In late February, McCurtis’ dryer won the gold at the Delta Regional Authority’s Delta Challenge, earning him an opportunity to network in New Orleans for a week with other innovators and venture capitalists.
It was there that the Edwards native encountered Lisa Lloyd, a personal care products veteran and principal of the Lloyd Marketing Group, a company that specializes in educating budding inventors on how to get their products to market.
Lloyd said in a phone interview last week that McCurtis and his Momentum Dryer have come on the scene at a time “everyone is looking more at ornamental design changes rather than utilitarian solutions.”
That’ll help to keep the Momentum Dryer from getting lost in the crowd, Lloyd expects.
Before starting her firm, Lloyd traveled the country on behalf of manufacturers looking for new and useful hair care devices and products designed by people like McCurtis. The Momentum is a solid prospect, she says.
“I was intrigued by the way he has gone about re-inventing the dryer,” Lloyd says. “It could change the way the industry goes about drying hair.”
The buzz is already plentiful around Jackson.
Business development specialist Nash Nunnery’s work with McCurtis at the Mississippi Development Authority’s Entrepreneurial Center has led him to conclude the inventor has developed a game-changer. “He has a proprietary product that’s going to be making headlines,” Nunnery says.
Considering the value of time today, the hugeness of the market demand McCurtis expects to be filling is difficult to grasp.
Consider that in 2008, 46 percent of U.S. households had a hooded dryer.
As does every hair salon on the planet today, because hair that has been dyed, colored or permed must be dried with a hood to ensure even drying of the treated hair, he says.
“Women are so ready after 125 years of complaining” about the time required to dry their hair, says McCurtis, referring to the first electric hair dryer’s arrival on the market in 1890.
Some men are so ready as well, McCurtis adds, pointing to the trend among men, especially African-Americans, to wear dreadlocks. Those dreads may look cool, he says, but they’ll mildew unless an hour or more is spent under a hooded dryer removing moisture from them.
McCurtis started designing his hooded hair dryer a decade ago over frustration with the time it took his soon-to-be-wife to dry her considerable hair.
She checked her hair after an hour and 15 minutes underneath a hair dryer. “Another hour,” McCurtis recalls her saying.
That episode led McCurtis to return from the store with a hooded dryer of his own – not to use but to figure out how to improve its effectiveness.
He first had to spot the dryer’s problems, a task he quickly accomplished by identifying the way the dryer concentrated hot hair by flowing it downward from the top of the head, to the sides and to the bottom.
“They are trying to hit every part,” he says of the dryers on the market today.
That’s an inefficient approach, partly because concentrating the hot air on the top center of the head downward overheats the scalp and creates moisture that hampers the drying, he says.
“The scalp feels the heat. The body only does one thing when it is exposed to that – it sweats.”
Even after the hair has dried, the scalp will have a salty residue that can damage hair, according to McCurtis.
His innovation is to send the warm air upward at a 25-degree angle from several side rows of vent holes. The first contact the hot air has is with hair on both sides. “By indirect contact, the top of the scalp gets dry, and the hair dries evenly,” McCurtis says.
An exhaust fan at the top of the top of the dryer’s hood draws the moisture upward and away from the scalp, he adds.
The Momentum Dryer, he notes, mimics evaporation because the hot air is going up at an angle. “Once the hot hair makes contact with hair it turns the hair’s moisture into a vapor,” he explains.
“Vapor wants to rise” and the exhaust fan obliges by drawing the vapors upward and out.
Essentially, he says, “the exhaust fan at the top pulls out that excess moisture and draws fresh air into the breathing space of the person using it.”
Ultimately, by reducing the humidity level inside the hood, the hair dries much faster, McCurtis says.
He says he thinks his product development, which has an efficiency confirmation from Helen of Troy Labs in El Paso, Texas, is ready to take on investors.
“It’s gotten to the point it can bear some fruit,” he says.
Lisa Lloyd, the Lloyd Marketing Group principal, says she thinks she can get McCurtis a licensing deal from a major manufacturer. “I am taking on this product to license it on his behalf,” she says. “I’ll be running it by the people I know in the hair business.”
The license holder will make the Momentum Hair Dryer and sell it, according to Lloyd.
McCurtis’ task will be to cash the licensing checks that roll in, she says.
Yes, McCurtis is confident enough to be thinking he has a breakthrough product. Remember Judy Jetson from the long ago Jetsons TV show? he asks.
Each morning she’d ride a conveyor through a hair dryer that dried her hair in a flash.
“Until they come out with that, this is going to be the best way to get your hair dry,” McCurtis says, pointing to the Momentum Dryer.