October 18, 2005

C.U. Tick Tocks On-Time

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Fatigue is a common ailment on college campuses and although Adam Hocherman’s invention won’t keep you awake during that horrible Monday morning lecture, it will make sure you get there on time. Hocherman ’97, who is in his second year at the Johnson Graduate School of Management, created, produced and now distributes the Neverlate 7-Day Alarm Clock through his startup company, American Innovative.

The Neverlate, which had a trial run at 18 stores during the Christmas 2004 season and recently expanded nationwide, allows the user to set seven different wake-up calls, at varying times, for each day of the week. It has sold 30,000 units to retailers, including Linens-n-Things and college bookstores.

Hocherman, who also studied at Cornell for his undergraduate degree in engineering, said the idea came to him while shopping for a girlfriend a few years ago.

“It was amazing how difficult and ugly the alarm clocks out there were,” he said.

After writing a patent and conducting market research to learn how to mass-produce his clock in China, Hocherman finally took out a Small Business Administration loan and founded American Innovative in 2003.

Randall Sawyer, a public relations officer at the business school, has been supporting Hocherman’s endeavor by using him as an example when discussing the success of entrepreneurs at Cornell with media outlets.

“A lot of people have a business plan or a model, but few people here at the Johnson school have a product,” he said. “It’s a fun sell for me.”

Although the business school prepares its students for entrepreneurial endeavors, it is often difficult for them to start successful companies while still there.

“The school does try to informally support students who are pursuing other activities,” said Ann Richards, acting director of admissions and financial aid at the business school.

Hocherman said he was grateful for Richards’ support of his venture. She interviewed him during the admissions process and was “skeptical” initially, but his solid business plan convinced her he could thrive at school and work simultaneously.

Although he has the opportunity to license the product and let another company oversee production and distribution, Hocherman insists on running American Innovative and controlling product development between classes.

“In today’s business world, everything is outsourced. The trick is to intersperse the communications [with clients and manufacturers] into the rest of your daily life,” Hocherman said. He has an advisory panel that includes Cornell alumni and former professional colleagues, but Hocherman oversees the entire company himself.

Hocherman explained that licensing allows the inventor to profit from royalties, but he is “looking for a sustainable living” for himself, and selling the idea will not provide that.

The clock radio, which is currently American Innovative’s only product, has an adjustable snooze (1-30 minutes), a nap timer that allows you to set the alarm without disrupting the morning settings, and a sleep timer. It also allows for easy alarm changes if a class is cancelled one morning.

During a semester-long immersion course in operations and manufacturing, Hocherman visited the plant that produces his clock in China. He said it was useful to understand the supply chain and better see how factories work when considering the production timeline.

The Neverlate clock has sold very well in college bookstores, and the Cornell Store is one of its biggest college buyers.

It is “pretty rare” to find consumer goods produced by someone in our community, said Gary Swisher, assistant director of the Cornell Store. When they do come across such products, though, he said they are “delighted” to promote the product as much as possible. Swisher also helped put Hocherman in touch with buyers from other college stores.

Hocherman has two new products in the works, one of which is an iPod-compatible variation of the Neverlate. He is looking to make something that can retail under $100, which would be the cheapest product of its kind. His other product is a kitchen electronic, commissioned for a hospitality company, which will probably begin manufacture in early 2006. Hocherman recently released a Neverlate that is compatible with European plugs, too.

Archived article by Melissa Korn
Sun Senior Editor