From Hiram College to Hollywood to the hands of children across the nation, the toy Hiram alumnus Nathaniel Eaton ’17 invented in his college dorm room won ABC network’s “The Toy Box” season two series. As millions of viewers witnessed the moment Eaton’s life changed profoundly, he shared it personally with the Hiram community during a campus watch party for the November 19 series finale.
Eaton’s Water Dodger now sports a Mattel label and new name, Hydroshield. When Toys “R” Us stores opened this morning, Eaton’s invention filled the chain stores’ shelves nationwide. With accolades streaming, his phone ringing, and $100,000 in grand prize winnings arriving soon, Eaton’s enthusiastic yet reflective and pragmatic demeanor hints that the life-changing moment is merely a turning point for the 25-year-old entrepreneur.
Rising to the top from an initial pool of more than 50 contestants, Eaton says he’s been smiling ever since he was invited to appear on the “Shark Tank”-like show, which discovered him and his invention on Kickstarter.
“I was nervous on the way to the show (in Hollywood), but my confidence grew remembering the last four or five years I had worked on this. I believed I had a product that was fun, cool and exciting,” says Eaton, who majored in business management and minored in entrepreneurship.
Inspired by superheroes the Hulk and Captain America, Eaton put his imagination and business know-how to work to develop the toy. A shield, which includes a handle and net affixed to the back, can hold water balloons, foam and water balls, snowballs and even socks, as child judge Joachim pointed out when he first tried out the toy on the show’s Oct. 1 season premiere episode.
“Nate has come a long way in refining his first concept of Water Dodger to get it to where it is today. Along the way, he learned the skills of getting in touch with his customers, testing the market, revising and improving early ideas, and pivoting, when necessary, to find a clearer route forward,” says Kay Molkentin, Eaton’s former professor, mentor and director of Hiram’s Center for Integrated Entrepreneurship.
Looking ahead, Eaton says he will stay the entrepreneurial course. “I plan to continue as a serial entrepreneur, investing in business and working with a professional team,” he says.
At this very moment, however, Eaton is pinching himself.
“It’s an amazing dream come true,” he says.