A series featuring up-and-coming innovations born or growing up in Wyoming
Members of the Wyoming Business Council staff hear it all the time as we travel the state: We have so many great ideas and companies flying under the radar right here in Wyoming. I wish more people knew what was going on.
The Great Ideas series is our effort to tell those stories that make Wyoming proud.
If you know of an original, innovative business picking up steam in your neck of the woods, get in touch with Baylie Evans at email@example.com.
From the time she was a geology student to when she was a college geology teacher in Durango, Colo., Lauren Heerschap – like just about every other field geologist – used the Brunton Pocket Transit for taking measurements out in the field.
It's a surveying tool field geologists have used since it was invented in 1894, she said, but it was high time for an upgrade.
"It works, but it's just not very intuitive," Lauren said.
She and her students were all frustrated by its design that required multiple configurations to complete a measurement that left room for error.
What if the Brunton transit could rotate around a secondary axis and measure things simultaneously?, she recalled wondering.
While teaching a summer field geology class in 2013, an idea started to come together in her head.
Earlier that year, Lauren and her husband, David Heerschap, started a small business, Real Science Innovations. Together, they designed, bundled and sold products meant to make teachers' and students' lives easier. It all started with David's design for a tougher, more powerful water bottle rocket launcher for his high school science students. They also sold colored pencils bundled specifically for creating more professional-looking geologic maps, and bundles of field equipment students would otherwise have to obtain multiple sources.
But the new compass design was their most exciting idea yet.
"It was one of those ideas that just wouldn't leave me alone," she said. "I really felt like I should try to pursue this."
During the holiday break of 2014, she started sketching ideas for a new style of field compass; and David even bought a metal mill and taught himself how to mill a functional prototype.
By January 2014, they had an instrument that could take multiple measurements simultaneously, and it was intuitive and efficient, Lauren said.
"Man, this is cool," Lauren recalled thinking. "We should probably patent this."
So, by that summer, they had a provisional patent on it, and Lauren took it to several field camps where geology students took to the new methods right away.
Then the task became getting it into the hands of geologists. Rather than dropping everything, quitting their jobs, selling their home and attempting to manufacture it themselves – and rather than trying to compete with well-established brands – they met with Brunton and arrived at a licensing agreement. Brunton would manufacture the new Brunton Axis Transit in Riverton, and the Heerschaps would retain the patent, receive a royalty and stay involved in the marketing efforts.
The Axis became commercially available in 2016, and the Heerschaps moved from Durango, Colo., to Lander that same year to be closer to the manufacturing facility.
Today, they continue to be active in marketing the product at tradeshows and expos, where their booth always draws a crowd, Lauren said.
"People are really psyched about the product," she said.
The high cost and stress of patenting their product in the U.S. and Europe, plus having to give up some control to Brunton, has been tough.
"It has been an interesting journey," she said. "And definitely not all rosy."
But she said it feels great to see geology students, and even some of her geology "heroes," excited about her product.
"I hope it is going to make a difference in the geology world," she said.
The Heerschaps are happy with their decision to move to Lander, enjoying all the rock-climbing and outdoor opportunities in Wyoming.
This summer, David started work as the new manufacturing engineer at Brunton.
And now, they've even added a new kind of "invention" to the Heerschap family: a baby girl.