Written by: Monika Mudranincová, Klára Smolová, Kateřina Zapletňuková, Petr Vykoukal
Photo by: Petr Poliak, Vojtěch Vlk
Golden Czech hands are said to be just a myth. Maybe not quite. Here are five “ordinary” entrepreneurs who succeeded with their “ordinary” inventions, not only on the Czech, but also on international markets. They all share the common trait of being not only resourceful but also tenacious when pursuing their ideas.
Ivan Solnař: Cleaning up
Ivan Solnař is a man of action – he does what he says. When he sinks his teeth into something he doesn’t let go until he brings it to a successful conclusion. Like many people at the beginning of the nineties, he went into business. His patent venture – a unique paper product for cleaning up dog droppings – prevailed, and today he manufactures millions of them every year.
SOLNAŘ’S ORIGINAL calling was that of a printer. When he failed at several business endeavors, he decided to come up with an activity that wouldn’t require extensive investments and that he could realize himself, without partners. In 1994 he had a protected industrial prototype of the aforementioned paper invention registered with the Industrial Ownership Authority. Each kit comprises a little bag made of impermeable, recycled paper and a stiff cardboard scooper. However, convincing potential customers (i.e., municipal authorities) of the utility of his idea was a far more difficult step.
Jiří Mynář – Tools of the trade
Do you know what an edge lipper is? Unless you’re a cabinet maker, probably not. But manufacturing such a specialist’s tool can lead to international success and lots of money, as Jiří Mynář – who gave up his great love, cabinet making, for the more lucrative pursuit of inventions – knows well.
MYNÁŘ (43), from Ostrava, started out in business even before the changes of 1989, and the nineties were a golden age for his cabinet making shop. “We made everything, from shelves to shop furnishings, and then we specialized in customized cabinets,” Mynář recalls. “My colleague and I had everything well organized, and it worked great until the advent of the supermarkets, with their low prices.” It was impossible to compete so Mynář decided to specialize in manufacturing machines for lipping wooden edges, one of which he made originally to meet his own needs. Similar devices were already on the market, but they were too expensive for small shops. “I spent two years developing it, and then I realized that it had cost me so much time and money that it would be worthwhile to try offering it to others as well,” he says modestly. He bought advertising space in professional magazines, but the real breakthrough came when he took part in the 1998 Woodtec trade fair in Brno. The device, which sells for CZK 100,000-130,000 plus tax, and has many other woodworking functions such as trimming, brushing, and milling, drew interest not only in the Czech Republic, but abroad as well. “It’s tailor-made for the needs of the Eastern market,” Mynář claims. This qualifying statement is readily reflected in the list of countries to which he regularly exports his tools: Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Lithuania.
Jiří Košík: Some fishy business
Eight years ago, Jiří Košík, a former employee of pump maker SIGMA, decided to buy a sawmill and start a timber processing business in Mírov, about 50 kilometers from Olomouc. At the time Košík did not know that timber would help him get into the more rare and potentially more profitable business of raising fish, including crayfish.
WHEN KOŠÍK STARTED burning waste sawdust and woodchips in a chimney in keeping with environmental regulations, he realized that the chimney was producing a huge amount of energy. “That heat either goes up into the air – or we could use it to heat water,” says the entrepreneur, recalling his epiphany.
Zdeněk Novák: Hitting the “target” market
Zdeněk Novák (53) got into the manufacture of a strange product – clay pigeons (flying targets for skeet shooting) – by chance. A friend of his who was a hunter used to make his own targets for himself and a couple of friends. In the mid-nineties they were offered a high-capacity machine for making the targets, and they jumped at the chance.
BUT THEY SOON realized that they didn’t have CZK 6,500,000 to pay for the machinery. So they started looking for a partner, and they found Novák, who had a strong business background. After the “Velvet Revolution” he ran a travel agency. He also has a business importing GAS denim clothing, and a slot-machine manufacturing business, both of which are still going strong.