It became official when online donors blew the doors off a second-chance crowdfunding campaign: Modobag, the corniest wait-maybe-I-actually-need-that invention of the year is going to be a reality. Its inventor, Kevin O'Donnell, had a vision of commuters puttering around airport concourses on a carry-on suitcase powered by an electric motor. If you need proof that America is and always has been great, look no further than his invention, straight out of a Saturday Night Live spoof ad, raising a third of a million bucks this summer.
Watch for the bags -- and the owners who love to sit on them -- to be whizzing around American airports at 5mph as soon as November. In January, the big shipments begin. For O'Donnell, the final steps to becoming a motorized-suitcase mogul took him through the worlds of motorcycle racing, FAA regs, and Paula Abdul talent shows.
Truly, if the path to bringing the world the first hybrid luggage/quadricycle/mobile-charging station were easy, someone would've done it already. We asked him how he went from wheeling around his luggage like a peasant to becoming the Steve Jobs of carry-ons.
Break dancers led to the breakthrough
O'Donnell's inspiration came from an unlikely source: traveling with a break-dancing team from his hometown of Chicago. Through a mutual acquaintance O'Donnell had met the Chi-Town Finest Breakers, consisting of six pint-sized b-boy and b-girl siblings, backstage at a performance. "It was kind of a hard-luck deal," he says. "The family was formerly homeless and just starting to get back on their feet. They are such an awesome family, the kids and the parents, and break dancing went a long way in getting them through it."
At the time, O'Donnell, a veteran of e-commerce startups, was looking for a new project. He began funding and accompanying the young dance troupe on trips across the country for auditions on TV talent shows like Abdul's Live to Dance. It was during a post-audition layover with the kids when inspiration hit. "We had some time to kill, so I started towing the youngest kid, DJ eFresh, around on my luggage to get to an arcade on the other side of the airport. It was fun, but I was getting kind of tired, so I kind of jokingly told them, 'Man, I need to put a motor in these things!'"
There, the clouds parted, a beam of light shone down, a choir sang, the whole nine. "And then," O'Donnell says, "it was like 'Man, I really should put a motor on these things!'"