The scenario was the same.
On the kitchen counter sat an open, half-full jar of peanut butter, but reaching in to gather the contents left Michael Bissette’s knuckles covered in the buttery spread. It was the same for mayonnaise and salsa — a mess.
The problem resurfaced last spring while Bissette, now a senior in chemical engineering, brainstormed with his teammates from the Engineering Entrepreneurs Program (EEP). The team, recent graduates Sean Echevarria and Spencer Vaughn, mechanical engineering and chemical engineering majors, respectively; and Stephen Smith, now a senior in mechanical, electrical and computer engineering, met in Engineering Building I on NC State’s Centennial Campus.
Rejecting some ideas and closely evaluating more promising ones, the students soon found a concept that stuck: Jar~with~a~Twist — a problem-solving product that works similarly to a deodorant stick that twists on the bottom while moving the contents of the container to the top.
“The idea came naturally to us,” Smith said. “Michael had the idea that the world needed a knife that never got dirty above the blade; his PB&J sandwiches were always too messy.”
The team had a great mentor — NC State engineering alumnus and founder of HowStuffWorks.com Marshall Brain. Brain, who is the director of EEP, and others in the program were the driving force behind encouraging the entrepreneurs-in-training to protect their idea and file for a patent. Since 1993, EEP has helped more than 1,000 students become well-versed in everything from marketing to business planning to financing.
From the first prototype — a plunger inside a PVC tube filled with peanut butter — to the final product, Smith and the team appreciated the easy access to top-notch professors and technology that the engineering buildings on Centennial Campus provide. The team used the innovative space on Centennial Campus dedicated to budding entrepreneurs — the Phase I Garage — and took advantage of the 3-D printing tools for initial prototyping. The group also met with professors in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences to discuss the ins-and-outs of food packaging and sought advice from professors in the Edward P. Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering on manufacturing their patent-pending technology.
The new James B. Hunt Jr. Library was also a big help. The team used library film equipment for various production shots of the jar and to create an informative product pitch that became a YouTube sensation.
Solving an everyday problem has captured the attention of Good Morning America, ABC News and Business Insider.
With a patent pending, the team anticipates the additional cost of the jar to be just three cents per unit compared to normal jars. They hope to license the product with major food companies.
“In the future, your favorite food condiments will all be sold in Jar~with~a~Twist,” Smith said.
Consumers may soon be able to experience a full-jar effect, even when little content remains.