He's got a whole new handle on shoveling snow

Howie Rosenshine is a finalist in Stellar StartUps with his ergonomic shovel-handle attachment, Shovelution.

Shovelution is no revolution, at least not yet.

Making a household name of a product assembled in a household's basement is not easy.

"I don't approach stores anymore. It's very hard to get a yes," said Howie Rosenshine, inventor of the spring-loaded, ergonomic shovel-handle attachment.

The 1,500 that have sold ($29.95 each, two for $54.95), bringing in $50,000 in total revenue since 2012, were largely purchased through www.shovelution.com.

Recently, the 57-year-old retired computer programmer from Downingtown hinted at a potentially major development.

"Expect big things this winter," said Rosenshine, who wasn't referring to a snowstorm.

Until then, he's hoping for a boost of his product's profile as a finalist in Philadelphia Media Network's Stellar StartUps, the inaugural competition organized by the parent company of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com spotlighting the region's entrepreneurial heft.

Winners in six categories - college students, health care, just plain cool ideas (where Shovelution placed), product/services, technology, and women/minority entrepreneurs - will be announced at a cocktail/panel-discussion event Sept. 29 at the new Pennovation Center in West Philadelphia.

You could say Rosenshine was born to do this: He spent his early years in Buffalo, N.Y., "where I learned about snow," he said. Then the family moved to State College, Pa. - a town that's also no stranger to the white stuff, as well as being home to Pennsylvania State University, where Rosenshine earned an undergraduate degree in molecular and cell biology.

But deciding "computers is where I wanted to go next," he took a job as a research programmer in the cardiovascular pulmonary department at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. While at Penn, he pursued a graduate degree in computer science.

Rosenshine spent 22 years at Sun Microsystems Inc., mostly in King of Prussia, until in 2010. Oracle Corp., which had acquired the company, "decided I needed a change of scenery. It ended up being this," he said of his home.

He was 51 with a decent separation package, and he was certain he was done working for others. His thoughts went to the shovel attachment and various prototypes that had resulted since he was first motivated to come up with a less-strenuous way to clear snow.

That was in 1996, when a blizzard dumped about 30 inches on the region and the slight-of-frame Rosenshine was staring at spirit-crushing, frozen piles left at the end of his driveway by municipal plows.

"It dawned on me what I needed was an extra handle," he recalled.

His first idea - to attach a rigid second handle partway up the handle of a typical shovel - would eliminate the bending associated with shoveling, Rosenshine concluded. But it did not reduce the force on the shoulder of the arm not working the shovel - pressure resulting from tossing snow.

Thus, the idea of a flexible attachment that shifts the load from the lower back to the upper body, and the brunt of the tossing motion from the arms to the stronger chest muscles. A patent is pending.

The attachment consists of a 14-inch, powder-coated length of spring steel. At one end is a plastic D-grip; at the other, a chrome attachment bracket. In all, the Shovelution consists of about 25 parts. All are made in the United States except the grip, which is manufactured in India.

"Dealing with small entities was not something large injection molders do in the U.S.," Rosenshine said he discovered.

He assembles Shovelutions in his basement, often while listening to a stack of CDs - "they have a durability about them that MP3s don't." His wife, Sharon, handles order fulfillment, boxing Shovelutions for shipment on the pool table.

A big help getting Shovelution to a marketable stage, Rosenshine said, was NextFab, a coworking fabrication space in South Philadelphia. There, he learned computer-aided design and 3-D printing.

A big validation moment came in January, when Popular Mechanics named Shovelution "best new tool."

"We've seen countless home-cooked variations of this snow shovel solution over the years, but never such a successful product version of it, until now," the publication said.

Greg Baka was impressed even before that. He is the owner of Missouri-based www.easydigging.com, which sells garden tools. Shovelution has been among the offerings since the fall of 2014, after Baka had the chance to test it for two winters.

He said its spring action "allows you to flip the snow away more easily" than bent-handle ergonomically designed shovels.

"If these were hanging up next to the snow shovels in your local Ace hardware store, they would probably sell like hotcakes," Baka said, acknowledging the "true challenge" of getting products into those stores, especially if they don't come from well-known vendors.

About 150 Shovelutions have sold on Easydigging.com, Baka said.

"I'm hoping Howie's product gets a chance to take off and fly because it does work really well," he said.

Closer to home, Shovelution has impressed the analytical Andris Freivalds, a professor of industrial engineering at Penn State, as it has Rosenshine's father, Matthew. He introduced Freivalds to his son's creation years ago.

"It's a much more efficient way of shoveling snow and minimizing load on the back," said Freivalds, who specializes in ergonomics and had work-physiology students conduct numerous tests on Shovelution.

A resident of State College since 1980, Freivalds, 65, is also quite familiar with snow and the various tools for clearing it.

He's used them all: broom, for the light accumulations; push shovel, ideal for three inches at a time; and the more hefty, straight-blade grain shovel, for chiseling through the "hardened wall" that street plows leave at the end of his driveway.

For the serious snows, Shovelution is "my go-to shovel," Freivalds said, insisting that there's a whole science behind snow shoveling - one that for him doesn't involve motors.

"These younger people pull out their snowblowers," he said, chuckling. "I'm done by the time they barely get started."

dmastrull@phillynews.com

215-854-2466@dmastrull