If necessity is the mother of invention, meet its inner child

By John Kelly
Thursday, November 5, 2009

Does the world really need a device for safely lowering an Oreo cookie into a glass of milk, a ritual that has been ably performed for centuries by what scientists call "fingers"?

Of course not. Nobody ever needed a Hula-Hoop, a Frisbee or an iPod, either. Great fortunes are built upon wants as much as needs. And that's why David Kowlessar of Alexandria hopes his cookie-dunking invention -- the Sip & Dip -- will take the world by storm.

"I've put every single dime that I have into this," he says as we sit at a downtown coffee shop, a cold glass of milk and a six-pack of Oreos in front of us.

David sold his condo. He sold his two boats. He sold his Jet Ski. He used to have seven cars. Now he has one, a Volkswagen Beetle he is planning to wrap in Sip & Dip livery and turn into a rolling advertisement. He estimates he's sunk $100,000 into the Sip & Dip, an early production model of which sits on the table between us. A curved piece of translucent blue plastic about six inches long, it looks like a miniature field hockey stick.

David is 41, a graduate of Fairfax County's Hayfield Secondary School. He spent some time at Northern Virginia Community College before deciding it wasn't for him. He got into the automobile aftermarket biz, selling rims and interior doodads. Then he got a job at a credit union. When, after three years, his boss told him a 5-cent raise was the best he could manage, David left that job.

Since then he's done a little bit of this and a little bit of that. He's sold carpet cleaning and air-duct cleaning. He's sold cars. He's been a music promoter and helped former NFL players set up charities.

One day, about three years ago, he saw his then-3-year-old niece, Megan, attempt to dunk an Oreo in a glass of milk. Her dexterity did not match her desire. "All the milk just went all over," David says.

Troubled by what he'd seen, he went online in search of a product that could help Megan. There was nothing.

David had identified a flaw in the milk and cookies experience: The more you drink, the lower the milk gets. The lower the milk gets, the further you have to reach in with your hand to dunk. The further you have to reach in with your hand to dunk, the more likely disaster will strike: You drop the cookie, or it crumbles, or you tip over the glass.

"I said, 'Wow, I might have something here.' "

David bought a soldering iron at Home Depot. He spent hours soldering paper clips into the shape that existed only in his mind: an armature for dipping cookies. His flimsy efforts were unsatisfactory, so he enlisted a craftsman in Southern Maryland to build a cookie cradle out of wood.

"It worked!" David says.

But one does not corner the cookie-dipping market with a single wooden prototype. He found a man in Boston who runs a company that fabricates medical devices. After much expense, a mold was created, a factory in China was found, and a few dozen sample Sip & Dips were made, the first salvo in the coming Sip & Dip invasion.

"I have the first Sip & Dip storybook already written," David says. "I have Sip & Dip toys, plush animals, birthday cards."

He envisions Sip & Dip outlets along the lines of Chuck E. Cheese's, where kids can dip and interact with costumed characters. His Web site, http://www.mycookiedipper.com, has already raised 4,800 preorders at $5.95 a pop. He plans to donate a portion of proceeds from each Sip & Dip sold to autism research.

The moment of truth comes. I insert an Oreo into what David's patent application calls "the cookie access aperture." I close the "cookie cover," locking the Oreo into place. (It will also accommodate Chips Ahoy, David notes.)

I lower the contraption into the milk. I sip through the straw. After approximately six seconds, I remove the Sip & Dip, slide back the cover and take out the Oreo. It is cool and wet, like a polished stone pulled from an alpine creek, but slightly friable. I bite into the cookie.

David's first shipment -- some 10,000 units -- arrives from China early next month.

"People are going to walk around saying, 'Why didn't I think of this?' " he says.

Join me at noon Friday for my online chat at http://www.washingtonpost.com/discussions.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company