James Bastian has been an inventor for as long as he can remember. Considering he’s 89 years old, that’s quite a long time – and quite lot of inventions. This Wednesday, Bastian will take the stage as the oldest presenter to date at 1 Million Cups Fargo, presenting his latest endeavor: Magnetic Phone Mount, a startup that sells magnetic mounts for smartphones.
Bastian is a retired PhD scientist, formerly involved in new drug development from 1954 to 1986 for Armour Pharmaceutical Company. His main achievement during that time was intimate involvement as project leader for developing Calcitonin, the first successful drug for treatment of bone disease. He then went on to consult in the pharmaceutical industry until his retirement in 2000.
He is now one of Fargo’s most, if not the most, tech-savvy senior citizens. He drives a BOLT electric car, (“probably the first in North Dakota,” he said with a laugh), has just ordered himself an Apple Watch, uses an iPhone 6, and posts videos to YouTube – one, which he made last month of him using his walker on the treadmill, he said he thought would go viral. (“I doubt my grandpa even knows what ‘going viral’ is,” said a co-worker upon reading this article.)
“I’m very technically oriented,” Bastian said. “I’ve been involved with science and technology all my life. I’m an inventor.”
One invention that he’s most proud of, the one that “should’ve made millions,” he said, was his patent in 1969 for the first painting system by which a peristaltic pump was used to transfer paint from an original gallon paint container through a transparent plastic hose, up to an internally fed roller. Because of his heavy involvement with Calcitonin and other reasons, he only received $10,000 for the invention.
But that didn’t stop the inventing. In 2009, he pursued an idea he had for a new method of treadmill use. When that didn’t take off, he began pursuing another idea – using magnetic phone mounts to enable using your phone hands-free.
Magnetic Phone Mount business
“I wanted a device to hold my iPhone 5 on my arm, to make it more convenient to use while sitting or driving,” Bastian said.
He began with mechanical devices, but quickly switched to Neodymium magnets for their ability to easily attach and detach while still holding the phone secure. Now, he produces and sells a variety of different products; magnetic belt clips (pictured below), headband mounts, bike mounts, dashboard mounts, and yes, even selfie sticks.
“Of course we have the selfie stick,” Bastian said with a laugh.
In the two years of business, Bastian bought a 450 sq. ft. facility in West Fargo to work out of, and developed a team of three: his engineer son Tom Bastian, a retired seamstress, and a tech-savvy college student.
Last year they sold their products from a kiosk at the mall and sold about $10,000 worth of product – “but not enough to pay rent,” Bastian said. He speculates that a younger more tech-savvy crowd might suit the business better, so they are now focusing on their e-commerce side; currently they have 10 devices for sale on Amazon Prime.
Bastian recognizes that with the recent release of the Apple Watch the sales of his magnetic arm band could suffer. But of course that’s not the only thing they offer. Ideally, Bastian said, he’d love to see the business go worldwide.
“I think that people in China, and South Korea, and India, and all over the world, they would enjoy using it,” he said.
Thinking back to when he first was pursuing the patents, he remembers a friend bringing him to Cooperstown to speak with a company president there. He never forgot the advice he got.
“He said, ‘Well Jim if you never make a dime out of this, if you get a lot of people using it there’s a lot of satisfaction there,'” Bastian said. “And I always remembered that.”
Now, he said, they just need to spread the word. He applied recently to Shark Tank, he said, and tomorrow he’ll be at 1 Million Cups. Come see Jim Bastian present tomorrow morning at 9:15 am, at the Stage at Island Park!
Photos courtesy or Marisa Jackels and Magnetic Phone Mount