Aspiring inventor and entrepreneur, Caroline McAleavey, was terrified to present her idea of a clean burning, environmentally safe kindling bag. The Northampton Community College (NCC) student, who is majoring in computer aided design (CAD), was about to speak at Lehigh Valley 100 Cups held at NCC’s Follett Family Southside Center where novice entrepreneurs and businesses share their stories over a cup of coffee with community leaders. Aside from the four judges who would critique her presentation, about 100 faculty members from NCC and other colleges and prominent local businesspeople filled the room.
“On a scale of one to 10, my anxiety level was a 15,” she said. “I’m a shy person. I was afraid I would stumble on my words and forget what I wanted to say. What’s funny is that the fear and anxiety just melted away when I got into the presentation.”
With an invention in mind, McAleavey enrolled in NCC’s Startup Boot Camp this past spring, which culminated in the 100 Cups pitch presentation. The entrepreneurial program provides resources, preparation, and mentoring to students interested in developing ideas. Using the NCC’s FabLab branding and graphics tools, McAleavey created packaging, a logo, a banner and t-shirts, and she plans to develop a website and e-commerce videos to post on YouTube.
“The Fab Lab is a little hidden gem,” she said. “It’s an amazing resource for NCC students looking to create and learn new skills.”
McAleavey’s idea is Eeezlite, an organic Firestarter consisting of a paper bag filled with unbleached wax, coconut oil, and no plastics or other potentially harmful materials. It burns for over 15 minutes, and the non-toxic leftover ash is a natural fertilizer.
The invention came from one unfortunate November night in 2022. McAleavey’s neighbor banged on her door, waking her. When she opened the door, she saw the entire perimeter of her lot was ablaze. “It looked like someone had taken gasoline and poured it on the property lines,” she said. A responding firefighter told her those types of fires are relatively common because the leaves and other flammable materials tend to gather around wood lines at the perimeter of housing lots. Seeing how quickly dried grass and leaves burned gave her the idea for the accelerant bag.
Since the presentation, McAleavey obtained a probational patent and plans to file a utility patent. She delivered her first order to a campsite in upstate New York.
Born and raised in Ireland, McAleavey always had an entrepreneurial spirit. She was designing and selling clothes in her own Dublin boutique by age 20. Her Dublin store was a hit, but the overnight success at such a young age overwhelmed her. This, combined with a desire to improve her design skills and see the world, led her to close the shop and move to New York City to study fashion and design at the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). Just one course away from graduating, however, she could no longer tolerate the concrete jungle. To get out of the hustle and bustle of the big city, she moved to the Poconos, expecting to commute to New York City to complete the course.
“I planned to stay six months but ended up staying 30 years,” she said. McAleavey dropped out of FIT and got her real estate license, thinking that would provide more stability. She did well until 2008 when the housing market crashed. With her thinking cap on, she designed and built a food truck, Ca-Rollin Cuisine. She worked at festivals and other events, and her business grew until the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible to maintain.
It was then that she decided to go back to school. Impressed by its course offerings and tuition costs, she chose NCC.
As a long-time designer, McAleavey had conceived and sketched several ideas for inventions. She needed to learn how to take them from concepts on paper to physical, three-dimensional objects. After researching several programs, she enrolled in NCC’s CAD program. One of the program’s components that attracted her was a course with a section on 3D printing, something that would help bring her inventions to life.
McAleavey is just getting started as an inventor. She has several other ideas that involve 3D printing but is keeping them close to the breast. Her coursework at NCC gave her the confidence to continue learning in pursuit of her dreams.
“I would encourage anyone at any age to return to school,” she said. “I didn’t appreciate school when I was younger. Now I crave knowledge. I love learning. Your brain doesn’t stop growing. It’s a muscle you have to exercise. You don’t know what could come out of that.”