Not all kitchen innovation has to be high-tech to have a great story.

In fact, the tale of fourteen-year-old inventor RJ Batts is one of the cooler stories I heard this week at the Housewares show in Chicago. Standing at his booth among rows of other makers and creators more than twice or thrice his age, RJ told me how his concept, the Tip Tough – a finger protector for slicing and dicing on a cutting board – went from idea on paper to buzzed-about product at this year’s big home products trade show.

It all got started when RJ’s dad cut his fingers slicing food. Determined to figure out a way to protect his dad’s fingers in the future, RJ picked up a sketchbook and drew the first conceptualization of the Tip Tough. After a quick online search told them there wasn’t anything like this available, RJ and his family began to investigate how to bring the product to market.

The Tip Tough

Without any knowledge of the mechanics of product creation, RJ soon enrolled in a local program for young inventors called the Young Entrepreneurs Academy at the Salisbury (MD) Area Chamber of Commerce. The program gave RJ and his family what they needed to know to craft his pitch, understand fundraising and get a sense of how to bring the product to market.

“They guided me through learning how to go to business,” said RJ. “Without that, the product would have been sitting in a sketchbook, and I wouldn’t have to know what to do with that.”

He soon competed in a local startup competition at Salisbury University, where he received $15,000 for second place in a competition where he beat out many adults. And this week at the Housewares Show, RJ was featured in the Inventor’s Corner as the younger inventor at the show.

RJ and his company, Picklehead, are running a Kickstarter for the finger protector and plan to bring the stainless steel Tip Tough to market by July. They are planning on shipping a plastic version of the Tip Tough later this year.

While it may not be a smart kitchen device, the Tip Tough fulfills an obvious need, something many more modern – and connected – devices can often struggle with.  On my panel this week about the future of the smart home, my panelists talked about the need for simplicity of focus and creating obvious value in the minds of the consumer. As someone who gets annoyed I can’t cut that final piece of steak as finely as I’d like, I am a big proponent (as are my fingers) of simple, straightforward and non-connected innovation like the Tough Tip.

You can hear my interview with RJ above and support his Kickstarter here.

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