(Photography by Don Kadair: Hydra-Guard founder and CEO Joseph Tucker)
Behind the invention: Founder & CEO Joseph Tucker
Number of patents: 1 pending
The patent bill to date: $40,000
From scribbling sketches on papers strewn about his living room floor to standing on the sidelines of an NFL stadium watching athletes use the product he developed, Joseph Tucker’s journey from first-time entrepreneur to successful business owner is the result of his desire to solve a basic problem he himself faced as an athlete.
As an avid runner training for marathons in 2012, Tucker struggled to find a hands-free solution to efficiently stay hydrated during races and other fast-paced, endurance driven activities. While practicing Brazilian jujitsu, Tucker frequently was annoyed by dryness in his mouth. He began to wonder if the mouth guard he wore could become a hydration mechanism.
Ultimately his idea for how a hydrating mouth guard would work dawned on him one day while training for a marathon at the LSU lakes. After a 15-page Google search, which only turned up backpacks with liquid pouches and water bottle belts, Tucker sensed an opportunity in the market to develop a product that could revolutionize the mouth guard industry.
In 2013, he decided to conduct a more thorough quest for similar inventions by hiring a firm to conduct a professional patent search before pouring thousands of dollars into the process. When Tucker found his invention was indeed unique, he sought out the best patent attorney he could find to begin crafting a provisional application.
“Having a good patent attorney is everything,” Tucker says, likening it to the importance of finding the best surgeon before undergoing an operation. “It is the same thing with a patent.”
A provisional application isn’t needed to obtain a patent, but it allows an inventor to lay claim to his or her invention for one year, during which a formal application must be filed. The provisional patent also allows the term “patent pending” to be applied to the creation. Tucker opted for this route and spent 2014 conducting market research and presenting his findings to potential investors, including family, professional athletes and other interested backers from around the county.
“I’m a big believer in [filing] the provisional [application] because that is when you get your priority dates,” Tucker says. “That 12 months gives you a lot of time to figure out if there is a market for your product, how much money it is going to take and to really understand, ‘What am I getting myself into?’”
Over the course of that year, Tucker found strong demand for the product among high school, college and professional athletes, leading him to file his nonprovisional utility patent to protect the function of the device he dubbed Hydra-Guard.
In 2015, Tucker began testing his product in the market by attending numerous trade shows. A number high school coaches—primarily from Texas—showed keen interest in the product, allowing Hydra-Guard to develop a large footprint in that state.
Tucker also worked to leverage relationships with universities and NFL teams. Former LSU football players like Odell Beckham Jr. endorsed the product last year. In developing connections via LSU with athletes like Beckham, as well as coaches such as Adam Henry—a wide receivers coach formerly at LSU and now for the New York Giants—Tucker has been able to get his mouth guard into the hands, or rather mouths, of NFL players.
“Adam, like many other coaches, fell in love with our cutting-edge technology and was amazed at what our product delivered to athletes of all sports,” Tucker says. “In June Adam invited me to visit with the team and introduce our product to their program.”
Hydra-Guard has also filed for one foreign patent and is pursuing numerous trademarks on its name, logo and other brand assets to position the company for future growth, Tucker explains.
“Whenever you are doing trademarks or patents, you don’t want to just think now or two weeks from now,” he says. “You want to think five, 10, 15 or 20 years down the road.”
Expansion to other product lines is also in the works for Hydra-Guard. Tucker has exclusively licensed a novel composition from the LSU AgCenter for the development of high-electrolyte bottled sports drinks and sports drink powders. With this licensed technology, Hydra-Guard is developing flavors for the LIFT sports drink, which will operate under the umbrella of Hydra-Guard. Using patented technology called Bitter Blocker, the LIFT line of sports drinks will have more electrolytes and lower sugar levels than any other product on the market because of the Bitter Blocker’s ability to mask the strong taste of high potassium levels.
Tucker plans to launch the Hydra-Guard’s Super Sports Drink this month; he’ll start visiting distributors—and entering local and regional retailers—a little later this year.
“2015 was our testing year and better understand our identity,” Tucker explains. “In 2016 we plan to ship mouth guards all across the United States and start our negotiations with local and national retailers.”
Tucker also envisions medical applications for his product, along with uses for industrial workers restricted from toting drinks into confined areas. Tucker’s advice for other first time entrepreneurs exploring novel ideas: Create a strong vision for your product and then expand that vision to unexpected markets.
“I can develop this product, but what all can it help?” Tucker recalls thinking when crafting his patent. “I want sports, but what else can it do?”