A Detroit Entrepreneur Transforms Personal Tragedy Into Life-Saving Inventions

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killed his business. At the same time, foreclosures were wreaking havoc on Detroit’s real estate market. But Robinson saw an opportunity to invest while prices were at rock-bottom. He began buying foreclosed homes to fix up and flip, but he soon encountered a problem that has ravaged Detroit: scrappers, or, as he calls them, “urban miners.”

Scrappers break into vacant dwellings and rip out anything of value, like appliances, copper pipes, wiring, radiators, furnaces, and even aluminum siding. (Circle of life side note: This harvested metal sold by thieves to scrap yards in Detroit is often shipped to China, where it’s melted down and used to build some of the world’s next great industrial cities.)

Scrappers not only ruin the value of homes, they also cause collateral damage like flooding and fires if the power and water haven’t been shut off. Robinson’s solution was to invent something called the Door PAL, a fairly simple design involving 14-gauge steel plates and L-shaped brackets that make doors much harder to break down.

Robinson invited a local TV news crew over to one of his properties and challenged them to try to break in. “They brought crowbars and sledgehammers,” Robinson recalls. “First, we put padlocks on the door, they kicked it, and it flew open. Then we put our product on the door. They kicked the door ten times and it wouldn’t open up. Then they tried a crowbar, and our product bent it.”

Robinson says the Door PAL isn’t foolproof, but it makes a scrapper’s job vastly more difficult. After his demonstration was televised, Robinson says he got contracts from the city and a few banks to secure vacant homes across Detroit. Within a few months, he was up to 300 contractors servicing securing homes in three states before, as he explains, the money to fund the contracts began dwindling as the housing market picked back up.

Robinson filed a patent application for the Door PAL, which is pending, and was working on his various inventions and businesses when tragedy struck again two … Next Page »

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Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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