Pat and Barb Cyr of Millinocket slept in shifts after their daughter Courtney was born in 1992.
Courtney was diagnosed with impaired cognition function, cerebral palsy and autism, and she required constant care when she was awake, which was most of the time. Courtney slept a few hours a day, if that. Barb says when Courtney was 18 months old she was hospitalized and treated after barely closing her eyes for 11 days.
When Courtney was 3 and becoming more mobile, the couple sought to buy her a protective pediatric bed but their insurance company wouldn’t help with the purchase.
Soon after, Pat sketched a design of a special bed on a napkin while having lunch at Applebee’s. He tweaked the pattern, then built Courtney a 7-foot-long, 6-foot-high four-poster bed.
He used sturdy awning fabric — with built-in window netting — as side and end panels. The internal sleeping compartment was designed to keep Courtney from falling out of bed and wandering at night. The front panel had a large zippered opening. The hardwood frame was plenty sturdy to support her when she bounced. And the interior compartment was padded and tightly fitted to protect her from banging her head or burrowing under the mattress.
Courtney felt safe and was content in her special bed, Pat says. She slept more and so too did Pat and Barb.
In 2003, Great Northern Paper laid off 48-year-old Pat, and 1,400 other employees. Pat had been at the mill 30 years; he started soon after he graduated from Stearns High School. Pat loved being a beater engineer, mixing pulp with water, chemicals and dye to turn it into paper.
He knew the job and did it well.
While contemplating his future, Pat discovered he had a knack for repairing PCs; he fixed a computer that Barb had bought to use for her college classes. He subsequently enrolled and excelled in courses at Eastern Maine Community College, then started a computer repair business, ComputerFixx. The business, he says, is very enjoyable and thriving.
But his invention that had changed his family’s life wasn’t far from his mind. Pat realized if a bed could so drastically improve Courtney’s life, it could also help other families in similar circumstances.
He dusted off the napkin design and he and his cousin Ron Cyr, a furniture maker, began building “Courtney Beds.” After obtaining a patent and approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on the design in 2008, they built and sold seven beds. In 2009, they built and sold seven more.
While Pat was confident in his and Ron’s carpentry skills and work ethic, he knew he needed help with a business plan. So he asked for it. U.S. Congressman Mike Michaud, who had previously worked 29 years at Great Northern Paper, listened.
In 2009, help arrived.
Michaud was instrumental in securing a $1.82 million U.S. Economic Development Administration grant to fund the Knowledge Transfer Alliance (KTA) at the University of Maine.
The grant, created to help communities and businesses like Cyr’s prevail through economic hardships caused by the Great Recession and natural disasters, has grown to assist all Maine companies seeking engineering, manufacturing or business expertise.
Hugh Stevens directs the KTA, which is overseen by George Criner, director of the School of Economics; and John Mahon, a professor in the Maine Business School.
UMaine business and economics students as well as faculty members from business, economics, engineering, UMaine Cooperative Extension, the Foster Center for Student Innovation and Forest Bioproducts Research Institute all pitch in.
“We get them (business owners) to the right place on their terms,” says Stevens of the KTA staff. “We’re serving them. It’s gratifying to help them through their rough spots.”
Pat says he received considerable free expert advice from the KTA, in particular from previous employees Bernardita Silva and Sue Medley. “They helped me create and facilitate my business acumen,” he says.
KTA provides a range of valuable services, including consulting, market and financial analyses, software training, website management, branding, sales strategy and production and accounting guidance.
That’s the goal of the initiative — to transfer the knowledge and information of UMaine professors and staff to Maine businesspeople.
Since 2009, Stevens says KTA has assisted about 300 Maine businesses. Its motto is “Helping Maine communities and business overcome hardships — one business at a time.”
Since utilizing KTA’s counsel, Pat has steadily increased the number of Courtney Beds he’s constructed and sold. After selling seven beds in 2009, he sold 16 in 2010; 37 in 2011; and 50 in 2012. Courtney Bed, Inc. now operates out of two shops with six employees.
Children in the United States, Canada and Australia are sleeping in Courtney Beds. Families from Israel, Japan, Mexico, Guatemala and most of Western Europe have inquired about the invention. Five families requested, and received help through the Make-A-Wish Foundation to purchase beds, Pat says.
Pat sells the FDA-approved hospital beds, which are comprised of 27 pieces of Maine ash, for $4,400.
The customer feedback, Pat says, is priceless. With each Courtney Bed he ships out the door, he knows he’s helping improve lives, one family at a time.
“Some folks have called and started crying,” Pat says. “They say they can’t believe how our bed has changed their lives.”
Pat says Courtney, who will be 21 in December, is thriving. She still sleeps in a bed named in her honor. “Barb and I have been God-blessed,” Pat says. “Courtney has a good life. She’s growing at her own pace and tee-hees and giggles much of every day.”
And she sleeps at night.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777