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Mold Line Operator Hoping Invention Pops Around the holidays in 2010, Mike

Baxter’s wife Melissa and her sister were making homemade Chex Mix. Tey were using a large mixing bowl to stir the mix with chocolate and pea- nut butter, and Baxter saw the spatula they were using struggle. “I said, you’re losing a lot of your

product and crunching it all up into little pieces,” Baxter said. “I thought some kind of cement mixer-type of appliance you could throw everything inside of would mix it up and you could have a one- person process instead of two.” Almost at the same time, Baxter,

who works at East Jordan Iron Works (East Jordan, Michigan) as a large mold line operator, had been watching CNBC’s “How I Made My Millions” about how the founder of Kernel Sea- son’s Popcorn Seasoning had gotten started. Tat led Baxter to combine his mixing idea with popcorn seasoning, and he realized that the bigger market could be mixing popcorn and season- ing. Baxter is a big fan of movies and has always disliked popcorn bags and buckets when trying to add extra but- ter, salt, or seasonings. At first, Baxter’s idea was an appliance that would either plug in or use a hand crank, and a bucket would snap into place and rotate to mix. He spoke with CAD designers to start engineering, but was told it would be an expensive process. And that became prohibitive early in 2011 when his wife

became pregnant with the couple’s first child, and Baxter put his thoughts on his invention on the back burner. But Baxter held onto his idea and also

watched ABC’s “Shark Tank” and read books about licensing ideas and get- ting them developed. One key piece of advice he got from reading those books was make your idea as simple as possible. One day when his daughter Marley was 18 months old, Baxter was rolling a ball to her in their living room and he visualized popcorn or other snacks being mixed inside a rolling ball. Tat led to the Popcorn Ball, a

plastic ball with a lid and finger grips so it can be spun and even thrown. Baxter hopes it can be sold in movie theaters, which would be appropriate considering his love of film. “I was thinking I can get rid of the whole appliance part of it and make it more fun and more personal into a ball-shaped mixing container,” Baxter said. “Right away, the name Popcorn Ball was thought of and I immediately started drawing.” Baxter spoke with people at East

Jordan Iron Works who had experi- ence with CAD design, and for $50 one of them produced 2-D drawings. Ten Baxter found graphic artists online who produced 3-D drawings, which was followed by Baxter getting a model made with a 3-D printer. “It all worked like clockwork. I was thankful to be where I was,” Baxter

said. “Call it fate or destiny or why I was working there.” Baxter shopped the product around

and got responses from 12 or 13 com- panies. Tey were impressed, but not enough to buy the invention. Instead, Baxter and his wife spent $5,000 on a functioning prototype, which allowed Baxter to make a video to highlight the product.

Baxter also had a Kickstarter in 2014 where he sold $26,000 worth of product, and that got the atten- tion of a consumer product company that has been licensing the Popcorn Ball since 2015. And by January 2016, Baxter had his first round of inventory to fulfill the Kickstarter orders and is working to get the Popcorn Ball into the big national stores. According to Baxter, they know about the product and have seen it, but are all on the fence. Baxter and the Popcorn Ball have

gotten plenty of ink and attention. Baxter has been featured on Good Morning America in a segment called “Shark Tank Your Life.” Te Popcorn Ball has been featured in a YouTube video by HobbyKidsTV channel that has over 1.6 million views, and more showcases like that are coming. “Tings are starting to move quicker

and quicker,” Baxter said. “Even since 2016 it’s been a long process.” For more information, visit

Mike Baxter, right, is seen with his wife Melissa, left, and daughter Marley.

Mike Baxter combined his mixing idea with popcorn and seasoning, and he realized that would be a bigger market than just party mixes.

June 2017 MODERN CASTING | 15

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