Program Report: Adam Klein – American Underground

Durham Rotary 03 2017–A Klein small The American Underground has done a bang up job of providing a path and encouragement for minorities and women who want to become part of the entrepreneurial movement. But what about us old folks? It’s also admirable that the model has evolved to include physical products and not just software and high tech stuff. And how smart is it to include professional services, which I assume includes lawyers, graphic designers, accountants, and maybe even real estate agents? Check it out on

But back to us old folks. How many toilets are there in the world? How many guys think it’s more than a little icky to have to lift a toilet seat to do number 1, especially in a restaurant, rest stop, or, God help us, a gas station? What if someone invented a levered device that bolted to the toilet bowl under the seat that would lift the seat out of the way but when in the down position a also provided additional support to rise from the seated position like the arm of a chair without adding those ugly grab bars to the wall?

You have signed the non-disclosure, haven’t you?

Crazy idea maybe, but when Adam Klein, who describes himself as the Chief Strategist of the American Underground, or the Startup Hub of the South, mentioned Feline Innovations’ cat scratching device with replaceable scratch pads as one of the companies participating in the Startup Stampede now in progress, I thought maybe not that crazy. But isn’t that to point…to put together potential entrepreneurs in an environment where they can collaborate and support each other. Anyone that has done product development knows that having a product is often the easiest part of launching a company to sell it.

Case in point, the story of David Baron, the founder of and past member of the American Underground who shared his four-year journey last month to the launch of his product, which is essentially four cushions covered with fabric that configure as a bed or a couch or a fort for the kids. A simple idea maybe but the interesting part was how they improvised the packaging with the help of forklift hydraulics and market it exclusively online.

The idea of having like-minded folks around with experience, however uneven, in things like accounting, marketing, pricing, e-commerce, fund raising, packaging, regulations and dozens of other necessary components that complement the creative process is a big help.

This is the second time that Adam has spoken to us. The first time was in December of 2012. We tend to think about American Underground in terms of what it has meant to Durham and there is no question that it has come a long way and been a major factor in the revitalization of Downtown but we shouldn’t overlook the service it provides for entrepreneurs like David and the impact they have on our city. Some of the key statistics are here from Adam’s Power Point presentation.

This time he was introduced by his friend and our fellow Rotarian Mike Kriston who is a senior vice president at McDonald York Building company. We hope Adam won’t wait another 4 or 5 years to visit again. In fact, maybe Mike can convince him to join. We have our own Innovation Fellows program here that could probably benefit from his experience. The American Underground website is

Product number 2 from Bathroom Innovations… how about a gymnastics ring hung from the ceiling for those that would rather pull themselves up than push themselves up from the seated position. Those of you who still have knees that can get you up without help, need to be thinking ahead anyway. By the way, Feline Innovations really does exist and the product is pretty cool. Check it out here. When I adopted my cats, they were already de-clawed but if they weren’t I’d consider it and it would probably be the most attractive accessory in my whole house.

Submitted by Jay Zenner

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