Cousins Ralph Lagergren and Mark Underwood reached celebrity status when they sold the patent rights to their Bi-Rotor combine to John Deere. A book, called “Dream Reaper: The Story of an Old-Fashioned Inventor in the High-Tech, High-Stakes World of Modern Agriculture,” was written about their journey, and even today they remain recognizable figures.
“It’s bizarre,” Lagergren says. “People come up to me at farm shows or when I’m flying somewhere and ask if I’m the guy who helped develop the Bi-Rotor combine.”
Since then, Lagergren has gone on to work on other entrepreneurial products in the categories of retail, construction, television, games, and equipment, having both successes and failures. “The economic downturn made it more difficult to accomplish all the goals I’d set for myself, but I’ve stayed true to my calling,” he says. “Now I’m working on several projects in packaging, construction tools, electrical components, chemical eductors, and a revamped beach game.” (Google, “Rageball 5.”)
Lagergren says he works on projects that can make a difference, and he also wants to help would-be inventors become successful so they, as Lagergren puts it, “can turn around and do it all over again.” (See, "Reinventing the rinse cycle.")
He has learned that working in alignment with companies and manufacturers through licensing agreements is the best way to get a product to market. “It’s up to the inventors to develop new products, but it then makes sense to license those products to companies who can add them to their portfolios and already have manufacturing and distribution,” Lagergren says. “This wasn’t possible a few years back, but now companies are looking to the outside for ideas and it is a win-win situation."
Lagergren’s long-term goal is to donate major portions of his profits to help children in need of craniofacial surgery whose family can't afford the operation. (Visit https://www.worldcf.org.) “Nobody should have to live that way,” Lagergren says. “I went into the surgery room with Dr. Kenneth Salyer in Dallas and saw a child's life transformed." [Note: Salyer is the one who made headlines when he successfully separated the conjoined Egyptian twin boys Ahmed and Mohamed Ibrahim in 2003.]
"That's when I made the decision to help all the kids I can in this area. That is my major motivation for making millions and what drives me every day.”
[To learn about Lagergren's early involvement in the John Deere Bi-Rotor combine, read "Show me the rotories," in the July 1999 issue of Farm Industry News.]
Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to Farm Industry News Now e-newsletter to get the latest news and more straight to your inbox twice weekly.