On January 19, 2024, 15-year-old California Invention Convention student Nathaniel Wellen appeared on the ABC-TV show Shark Tank in hopes of making a deal with one of the five investors and mentors, known as “Sharks.” Nathaniel pitched his invention, “The Duo,” an umbrella with a second extendable handle designed for two people of different heights to stand beneath it comfortably. While Nathaniel’s experience on Shark Tank is a highlight in his journey as an inventor and entrepreneur, his invention journey, which started six years ago, is far from over.
When Nathaniel was eight years old, he and his family lived in Atlanta, Georgia, a city known for rain and humidity. Nathaniel’s dad Alex frequently walked him to school — rain or shine — and Nathaniel noticed that rainy mornings made things significantly more difficult. His dad struggled to hold the umbrella to keep them both dry while also holding his son’s hand for safety. And Nathaniel struggled to keep up with his dad to stay under the umbrella. Having grown up with an inventor and entrepreneur as a father, Nathaniel felt naturally drawn to finding a solution to the dilemma.
While thinking about a solution, Nathaniel decided that a second “child handle” on the umbrella might be the right fix. He drew pictures and sought help from his dad to bring the idea to life. The two built a prototype by drilling, hot-gluing and welding selfie sticks to umbrellas to create the perfect two-handled umbrella. They evaluated the invention on their next rainy walk to school. The invention — at the time dubbed “The “Dual Handle Umbrella” — made keeping dry and staying safe much easier. While using the new umbrella, Nathaniel saw himself following in his dad’s footsteps, both literally and figuratively: His invention allowed him to safely walk with his dad and also demonstrated that he could truly be an inventor.
Feeling confident about his invention, Nathaniel was eager to learn about the next steps. His dad taught him that intellectual property protections like patents can shield inventors’ ideas from being stolen. Nathaniel knew that “The Dual Handle Umbrella” was something special — it had the potential to help many people — but it also could be misappropriated. Nathaniel used the support of his dad to start the process of protecting their intellectual property. They submitted a provisional patent application and then worked with patent attorneys to apply for a nonprovisional utility patent.
During the application process, Nathaniel, his dad and their patent attorneys needed to edit the application to clarify the description of the invention. Watching the editing process go back and forth, Nathaniel learned how to be resilient and use perseverance — qualities Nathaniel describes as “grit.” Each patent application rejection provided Nathaniel with an opportunity to push forward and learn how to refine the description of his invention. His grit paid off in December 2018 when he and his dad received U.S. Patent 10,143,276-B1 for the “Dual Handle Umbrella for Use by an Adult and Child.”
After receiving the patent, Nathaniel’s family moved to California. Through his new school, Nathaniel learned about California Invention Convention and jumped at the chance to showcase the umbrella and share his invention with more people.
“We are so proud of Nathaniel! We will never forget when he participated at our South Bay Regional Invention Convention event two years ago. He came in with his prototype and board. He wanted it to be just right, and we were thrilled that such a young inventor was so passionate about his invention,” recalls Adam Daley, co-leader of the South Bay Regional Invention Convention, a hub for California Invention Convention. “He was kind and generous to all the other inventors, and you could just tell how genuine he was. There are not enough kind words we could say about Nathaniel, and we look forward to seeing what this young man accomplishes in the future.”
After participating in the California Invention Convention, Nathaniel was invited to Invention Convention U.S. Nationals 2022 at The Henry Ford, where he earned second place in the seventh-grade category and won the Originality Global Impact Award, which boosted his confidence. He felt validated that “The Dual Handle Umbrella” could make a significant and unique impact on many people’s lives. “The Dual Handle Umbrella” not only solved a problem that he experienced with his dad, but it could solve a problem for thousands of families.
“From the moment we met Nathaniel, we all knew he was something special. He is thoughtful and poised, passionate and wise beyond his years,” shares Marissa Stillittano, co-leader of the South Bay Regional Invention Convention. “We are lucky to have been able to follow him along the journey from regionals to states, nationals to globals, Shark Tank pitch to Shark Tank airing. His story of perseverance and grit is one we will tell for many years to come!”
Feeling more motivated to bring his invention to the world, Nathaniel started reaching out to established businesses that could potentially help him. On one cold call, Nathaniel piqued the interest of Jeff Blauer, president and CEO of Shed Rain, a leading U.S. umbrella maker. Nathaniel established a partnership with Shed Rain, which now manufactures his invention as “The Duo.” “The team at Shed Rain is phenomenal,” Nathaniel says. “And Jeff, their CEO, is an amazing person who really took a chance with me.”
Hoping to learn more and bring “The Duo” to the next level, Nathaniel decided to apply for the chance to appear on Shark Tank through a casting call offered by the South Bay Regional Invention Convention. The ABC series, in which inventors and entrepreneurs pitch their product or business to a panel of five investors in hopes of receiving financial support, premiered when Nathaniel was just a year old. Growing up watching the series, the “Sharks” became familiar role models in his journey to becoming an inventor and entrepreneur. “I wanted to leave with something learned,” Nathaniel says about his motivation to apply for the show. He wanted the opportunity to receive advice or guidance from the Sharks, just as he had seen numerous other entrepreneurs do.
Over eight months, Nathaniel practiced and refined his pitch, sending audition videos to the producers. Then the day finally came for Nathaniel to pitch “The Duo” to the Sharks. “When I got there, my adrenaline went through the roof. Everything I was practicing for over the months and the process of meeting the producers was finally coming together and becoming real,” says Nathaniel. Even though he had watched the show for years, he wasn’t sure how it would feel to be the entrepreneur on the line. Although he was nervous, remembering everyone who had supported him along the way helped motivate Nathaniel. “Whether it was successful or not, I knew I had to try my best,” he says. “I felt like I owed it to my family, the team at Shed Rain and Invention Convention to try my best.”
After stepping on the set, Nathaniel’s nerves went away. “It couldn’t be less scary for what it was,” he says. “It didn’t feel like a challenge but a conversation … In the moment, I was just myself.” Because Nathaniel felt confident about his invention and had practiced his pitch in the months leading up to the taping, the experience felt natural. He compared it to pitching his invention to the Invention Convention U.S. Nationals judges. “The only difference was the set,” he says.
Looking back on his journey, Nathaniel is thankful that he got involved in Invention Convention prior to his Shark Tank appearance. “Invention Convention really helped me prepare for Shark Tank,” he says. After going through Invention Convention judging circles at both the state and national level, Nathaniel learned how to speak confidently and felt that anyone willing to listen to his pitch was eager to support him. He was able to transfer these lessons to Shark Tank. “I practiced. I knew my stuff. The Sharks were there to help me,” says Nathaniel.
Through his opportunity on Shark Tank, Nathaniel made a deal with Shark Robert Herjavec. “I’m over the moon. I don’t think it could’ve gone any better,” Nathaniel says, “It was the best experience. And getting to watch it all back with my friends and family was easily one of the top three experiences of my life.” Nathaniel is incredibly grateful for all of the people and organizations who have supported him along the way, including Herjavec and the other Sharks, the Shark Tank producers and staff, Shed Rain, Invention Convention Worldwide — and most of all, his mom and sister, who appeared on Shark Tank with Nathaniel, and his dad, who helped him create “The Duo.”
“Seeing Nathaniel on Shark Tank was truly inspiring, not only because of his complete poise and the ease with which he was able to respond to the Sharks, but also because, as he was leaving the room after his success with a deal, his advice was to other ‘kidpreneurs’ who might be listening — that they should keep going, even if things don’t work out — just keep going!” shares Brenda Payne, executive director of California Invention Convention. “It is the lesson we work so hard to give our student inventors. Even if they don’t have success with their idea right away, we want them to stay with it — to fail and fail often … that only by working through those failures can they finally succeed! Nathaniel will continue to be an inspiration to other student inventors for years to come, and he will give them a sense of what each of them might be able to accomplish!”
Nathaniel says, “Invention Convention kick-started everything. It was the springboard to Shark Tank.” He compares his experiences to a chain reaction. “It spiraled into this journey that I’ve been proud to be a part of,” he shares. Growing up with an inventor as a father led him to create “The Dual Handle Umbrella.” Building “The Dual Handle Umbrella” led him to pursue a patent. His family’s move to California led him to participate in California Invention Convention, which led him to take part in Invention Convention U.S. Nationals. His win at Invention Convention U.S. Nationals led him to partner with Shed Rain and apply for Shark Tank. And now Nathaniel looks forward to seeing what comes next in his chain reaction of experiences.
“Shark Tank may seem like the top, but it’s only the beginning,” he says with a smile. “I see Shark Tank as a boost up the hill. I’m going to take ‘The Duo’ with my team and make this huge!”
Carolyn Ward, senior director at The Henry Ford, adds: “We’re thrilled to have been a part of Nathaniel’s invention journey and can’t wait to watch where he goes next. We hope his story serves as inspiration to many more student inventors on what’s possible when you dream big.”
About The Henry Ford:
Located in Dearborn, Michigan, The Henry Ford, a globally-recognized destination, fosters inspiration and learning from hands-on encounters with artifacts that represent the most comprehensive collection anywhere focusing on innovation, ingenuity and resourcefulness in America. Its unique venues include Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, Ford Rouge Factory Tour, Benson Ford Research Center and Henry Ford Academy, a public charter high school. Together with its online presence at thf.org, its national television series The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation and Invention Convention Worldwide, the growing affiliation of organizations fostering innovation, invention and entrepreneurship in K-12 students, The Henry Ford inspires individuals to unlock their potential and help shape a better future.