Shane Chen almost always has inventing on the brain.Whether he’s skimming through an in-flight magazine, cruising the aisles of a local grocery store or even enjoying his favorite hobbies, Chen is thinking of ways to make products work better.
“I enjoy doing this and thinking of new ideas,” he said. “It’s my hobby. Sometimes I go to trade shows to show my products, and see others and think of way to improve things. My concept is to always make things work smoother.
Chen was born and raised in Beijing, China, where he earned a degree in agricultural meteorology. In 1986, he moved to the United States to work for a California company specializing in agricultural research. Soon after, Chen was hired by a company in Pullman, Wash., called Decagon Devices, Inc. He was its third employee. Today, the company has approximately 200 employees.
But Chen decided it would be best to be his own boss, and he started his first company, Chen Instrument Design, in Moscow, Idaho, eight miles from Pullman.
“I designed anything related to agricultural research,” he said. “But when I was in Moscow running the company, I found it wasn’t convenient to network. I had to drive or take a tiny airplane to Seattle. I decided I wanted to go near a bigger city.”
So in 1992, he relocated to Camas.
“It was still really small 20 years ago, but it had convenient access to bigger cities, but without being a big city,” Chen said.
In 2007, Chen decided he wanted to concentrate on inventions, so he sold CID and began another business, Inventist.
“I like sports, so most of my designs are sports related.”
Chen has 40 patents and is always thinking of new ideas.
“I am a speed skater, so I’ve designed a lot of skates and I’m also into cooking, so I’m working on kitchen gadgets too,” he said.
Some of his inventions include the Orbitwheel, a cross between a skateboard and in-line skates; the AquaSkipper, a human powered jet ski of sorts; and the Xing Scooter, a brake-operated device which combines the look of a scooter with the action of skating. The scooter works by transferring side-to-side skating-like action into forward motion.
To save time and space in the kitchen, Chen invented the UltraDrainer, a 4-piece counter-top drainer set consisting of a lid, small strainer, large strainer and tray.
His most recent invention is the Solowheel, a single-wheel, electric unicycle. The Solowheel is self-balancing and can hold up to 250 pounds, and go up to 10 mph.
“It was actually one of my easier inventions,” he said. “It’s kind of like the Segway scooter technology in a unicycle.” Chen had tried to ride a unicycle and found it to be difficult to balance and hard on the hips.
“This is easy to learn to ride and you can get to places quickly and easily,” he said. “After you ride it for awhile, you start to feel like it’s a part of your body.”
Karli Rizzo, who handles marketing and public relations for the company, said the Solowheel is very versatile.
“You can take it to the office, the classroom or on errands,” she said. “It’s good for college students or people looking to replace their car for short distances. It’s hands-free, so you can have a backpack or work inside a warehouse with it.”
Rizzo said that she, Chen and his daughter, Ywanne Chen, ride the Solowheel through different airports and enjoy the looks they get from other passengers.
“When we were at a trade show in Las Vegas, we just got swarmed by people and media wanting to see it,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it before. Once I ride it, it sells itself.”
Ywanne, a 2006 Camas High School graduate, enjoys working for her father’s company, where she does patent research.
“It’s very interesting and there is always something new going on,” she said. “Sometimes the inventions are a little quirky, but all of them have a different feel and you learn a lot.”
The Solowheel will be featured at INPEX, America’s largest invention trade show in Pittsburgh, Penn., next week.
Chen is no stranger to trade shows, but enjoys the chance to see new products and show his Solowheel to potential distributors.
Chen said he’ll keep thinking of new products which make things run a little smoother.
“I love the process of inventing,” he said. “You get really excited about things and build a prototype, and you try many times. There is a lot of trial and error. But sometimes it works.”