Beach Day Innovation
With Solbello, Paul James has created a solution for the woes of the standard beach umbrella.
Living just over a mile from Wrightsville Beach, Paul James and his wife, Rachel, are no strangers to spending much of their free time at the ocean. As the parents of two young sons, the couple knows the importance of finding a bit of shade during their days at the beach and hours in the sun. Over the past few years, however, Paul started finding himself constantly struggling with the shortcomings of his family’s standard beach umbrella. Frustrated and fed up, Paul decided last year to find a better solution.
“My wife and I have been going to the beach forever, and especially now that we have kids,” Paul says. “We know we have to be more protective of them in the sun, but oftentimes I can’t put a beach umbrella up because it’s too windy. That’s always been the problem to solve for me, so I started spinning my wheels to come up with a better way.”
Even as a teenager growing up in New Jersey, Paul remembers being interested in creating things and developing his ideas. In high school he ran his own businesses of waxing boats and mowing lawns, and after moving to California and graduating college, Paul started a successful home theater and security company. An entrepreneur at heart, he welcomed the challenge of inventing a more practical solution to cumbersome beach umbrellas.
Paul soon came up with the idea of a single pole umbrella with a wind-driven shade and started out building it with a few pieces of PVC piping and nylon. His next point of business involved visiting fabric mills to learn about production, then finding the right coatings and materials needed to create a quality product. With Rachel helping out in product testing, developing and social media managing, the creative process has truly been an adventure and a family affair.
“I’d take my two sons out on the boat every morning, set the umbrella up and test out the wind speed,” Paul says. “It’s been a fun family project for us, testing and learning together and having our boys involved.”
Paul named his finished product Solbello, and its capabilities are quite impressive. With under a minute setup time and a shade area covering more than 160% of that of a standard 7’ beach umbrella, Solbello is made of marine-grade stainless steel, aluminum and high-quality parachute material. The umbrella’s design allows the canopy to self-adjust as the wind shifts, and it only needs a slight breeze to work.
“One of the most common questions we get is ‘What if there’s no wind?’” Paul says. “There’s always a consistent breeze at the beach, usually at least around 4 miles per hour, and Solbello only needs 2 to 3 miles per hour winds to stay up. Over the past year, I’ve been out at the beach at least 150 to 200 times, and we’ve never had a day that there hasn’t been enough wind. Basically there’s about a 95% chance there’s going to be enough of a breeze.”
Another common question Paul hears is what happens to the shade coverage when the wind direction changes. He says the sail self-adjusts as the wind moves, and since wind is constantly changing 5º to 20º in either direction, the amount of movement doesn’t compromise the shade footprint enough to mandate a seat move.
“The wind generally follows the sun, so the shade you get with Solbello from the angle of the sun stays put more than with a regular umbrella,” he says.
“Our plan is to get this out to market as fast as possible,” Paul says. “We really want to just blow it up and create Solbello as a household name.”
Interested in learning more about Solbello?