Inventor, 10-year-old daughter team up on no-spill cup

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Joe Born's father has Parkinson's Disease, which causes him to frequently spill his drinks.

For most families, the spills would be lamented, then accepted as a fact of life. But not in the Born family.

Joe is an inventor — nearly 10 million of his CD-scratch removers, called SkipDrs, have been sold. So when his daughter, Lily, then 8, decided to craft a cup that her grandfather couldn't spill, Joe retrieved some moldable plastic he just happened to have lying around.

The result, which Lily named the Kangaroo Cup, will go on pre-sale this weekend for as little as $13 on IndieGoGo, a crowd-funding website similar to Kickstarter.

Here's their story — first as told by Lily, now 10, and then by Joe, 43, during an interview at 1871, the work space for technology entrepreneurs inside the Merchandise Mart. Joe rents a desk there. Lily, a fifth-grader at Edison Elementary School in Morton Grove, wore hot pink leggings and a bedazzled pink cotton top to the interview. It's her favorite color.

Lily's story

"I realized grandpa was having trouble because he has Parkinson's Disease, and he's always spilling things. My grandma wasn't happy about that. Sometimes she would just clean it up, and sometimes she would yell." (Joe interjects: "Ah, don't rat out grandma. Poor grandma." Lily smiles sheepishly and continues.)

"I wanted to build a cup that was almost impossible to spill. It almost is, fortunately. So I built this cup. There wasn't much to it at the start. It was a plastic cup with little homemade plastic legs. Well, I borrowed a plastic cup from my grandma and then added the plastic legs.

"Then I started getting into wheel-throwing. I did the wheel-throwing at a local art studio (Bughouse Studio in Skokie). I started with basic stuff, like bowls and plates. But my dad brought up (that) he could use a porcelain no-spill cup because he was spilling stuff all over the keyboard." (Joe says, "Wait. Who first noticed I was spilling stuff?" Lily feigns not to recall.)

"I tried the first cup by hand. It was really lumpy. Nothing like this. (She picks up one of two shiny, smooth Kangaroo Cups sitting on the table.) And then my dad started coming over to Bughouse Studio and working on the legs with me. Then I started making cups on the (pottery) wheel. Afterward, we would attach the legs and my art teacher would let us use her kiln.

"Then after a while, my dad wanted us to go to China because he has a friend there who owns a pottery studio. Then we started speaking with some people about making a mold of this. Then we spent, I think, two weeks in China.

"It was OK, in a way. It wasn't my first trip. I've been there a lot. (Joe interjects, explaining that Lily was adopted from China when she was 11 months old. This was her fifth trip — but her first on business, which she didn't care for much. Lily jumps back in.)

"It was a three-quarter-mile walk from the hotel to the place, and it was hot. By the time I was back to the hotel, my legs were tired, and that part was not good. And actually I got a little bit of a cold there. ... Thankfully, when I got back to the hotel, I got to take a cold shower, and I felt better.

"Most of our days were spent at the pottery studio. And every couple days, we'd go to the factory and see how our molds were doing. They were good. It was pretty impressive. I think it's a good idea to sell them because there are a lot of people like my dad who spill their coffee in the morning and aren't happy about that."

I asked her what she learned from the experience.

"The first thing I learned was that business trips are hard. But maybe if this cup does well, it might be worth making another trip."

Joe's story

"My sister is always doing art projects with Lily. So I said Lily, 'Let's do an invention project.' She's always coming up with various inventions. I say, 'What are the problems you see?' I've actually got on my computer a list of her inventions that go from the very useful to the absolutely ridiculous. One is a small pillow you're supposed to rest your nose on.

"But a lot of them are quite useful, like an umbrella that won't flip inside out.

"So (the question) was, 'What can we do about grandpa's spilling?' I remember this moment very distinctly. She was standing and she spread her legs, and said, 'If I put my legs out, it's more stable.' And I still have this picture. It's a pencil sketch, and she said, 'This is how I would do it.' There's a cup, and it showed two feet sticking out.

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