By Leah Oswalt
Michele Morton is no stranger to the concept of innovation. Growing up, she watched both her father and her grandfather invent out of necessity, and she learned from their resourcefulness. It’s not surprising, then, that when Michele believes that there is a more efficient way of doing something, she is determined to find it—even if she has to invent it herself.
Michele first came up with the idea for her powered gardening tool, TheMaxBit, seventeen years ago; and, in a few weeks it will be available for purchase on Walmart’s website. What started as a simple idea to make gardening easier is now a success story, years in the making.
In 1999, Michele was spending her weekends planting gardens for elderly members of her community in order to earn a little extra money. She quickly grew weary of the arduous process of digging each hole. One night while sitting in church, the idea for a powered gardening tool came to her. Over the next several years, Michele spent her spare time working toward creating a prototype and eventually obtaining a patent. During this time, she found a supportive group of Mississippi inventors, who soon became trusted advisors and friends.
At this point, Michele only had computer-aided design (CAD) drawings of her idea. One generous member of the group offered to help her build a prototype in his garage. After some rigorous trial and error experimentation, Michele finally had a successful prototype to match her vision.
When attached to a power unit (a drill is recommended), the tool digs a perfectly round hole and sets the soil right outside of it. Michele began attending trade shows to demonstrate her product and even wrote her own patent. With the help of a patent attorney and after an eighteen-month process, Michele was finally awarded a utility patent for her tool in 2003.
In the years following, Michele sought a manufacturer and a licensing agreement. At the same time, Michele was busy teaching and consulting about how to obtain a patent, and was also working toward her doctoral degree in Education Leadership from Mississippi College. Eventually, she reconnected with an organization called Innovate Mississippi, which she first became involved with through her inventors group. Innovate Mississippi is a non-profit group dedicated to fostering innovation and technology-based economic growth within the state. Through this group she met individuals whom she considers crucial to her success: Tony Jeff, Bubba Weir, LaTasha Bibbs and Dr. Joe Jordon. With these connections, she finally found her manufacturer, David Orman of Orman’s Fabrication and Welding, in West Point, Mississippi. The product, now officially known as TheMaxBit, debuted at a plant sale at the Clinton Community Nature Center in February of 2016.
On June 28, Michele took TheMaxBit to an open call pitch opportunity at the 2016 U.S. Manufacturing Supplier Summit, hosted by Walmart, in Arkansas. The MaxBit was approved to be a supplier for Walmart.com, which draws over 140 million customers each week.
“It was an amazing opportunity to be accepted and attend the MSS at Walmart,” says Michele, “I’ll never look at Walmart the same.”
Michele is looking forward to working with the company to ensure that her product is as affordable and accessible as possible.
Michele and her husband, Max, live in Clinton and have six children and three grandchildren. They have a ministry called God’s Way Enterprises, and Michele is also an adjunct professor in the Educational Leadership master’s program at Mississippi College. TheMaxBit is set to be available at Walmart.com in a few weeks. Until then, it can be purchased at www.themaxbit.com, at Green Oak Florist and Garden Center in Jackson and at Rankin County Co-op, as well as stores in Tupelo, Louisiana and Arkansas.