By Paul Lima | October 31, 2004
It's after midnight. Jim Kendrick is standing in a grassy field by the French River. He has travelled almost five hours north of Toronto to find a night sky free of the urban light pollution that normally interferes with his view of heavenly bodies. His tent is pitched. His $500 telescope is set up. He is searching for Messier Objects -- galaxies, nebula and globular clusters discovered in the 18th century by the French astronomer Charles Messier. To the naked eye, Messier Objects appear as dim, greyish blobs. Amateur astronomers consider them a challenge to find.
Mr. Kendrick is experiencing what many astronomers -- amateur and professional -- frequently experience: dew point frustration. Almost every evening, dew forms on glass when the glass cools below the ambient or current temperature.
Suddenly, it hits him. Jumping for joy in a deserted field miles from home he all but shouts "Eureka!" Like an oyster irritated by a grain of sand, Mr. Kendrick begins to turn his frustration into a pearl of an idea -- an innovative, permanent solution to dew point frustration.
Mr. Kendrick is convinced there must be a way to keep his telescope lens just above ambient temperatures without causing distortion. The art school dropout and self-taught astronomer is on track to alleviate the dew point frustration of astronomers around the world.
That was a decade ago. Since then, his innovative solution to the dew point problem has helped turn his passion for astronomy into a full-time business, with seven employees.
Born in North Bay, Ontario and one of seven children, Kendrick developed an interest in astronomy at the age of eight when his parents gave him a book about the formation of the moon. His father was in the air force and the large family moved around a great deal. The night sky offered the young boy a sense of stability.
"I loved taking in the beauty and immensity of the night sky... The universe is so unbelievably vast and so many things in it are so incredibly beautiful. It gives me an awe-inspiring perspective on life," says Mr. Kendrick, 49.
But he was tired of dew blurring his perspective.
Mr. Kendrick, a stained glass repairman, had no electronics or computer experience but believed the solution to optical dew could be found in an electronic lens heater controlled by a small computer. He conducted research and found two products that did what he wanted to do, but they were expensive, not mass produced and would only fit a couple of telescopes. Mr. Kendrick's vision involved an affordable, mass-market product that astronomers or anyone using any optical equipment, such as cameras, could buy.
"I couldn't believe nobody had addressed the issue," he says. With more than 1.5 million amateur astronomers out there, he believed he could turn a decent profit by capturing as little as one per cent of the market.
He began discussing heater circuits, computer controllers and power sources with a variety of electronics experts. A year later, after designing and field-testing the product, and "a lot of trial and error," he was ready to demonstrate the Kendrick Dew Remover System at Astrofest, a large astronomy trade show in Illinois. The product, which cycles power on and off allowing any user of optical equipment to keep optics barely above ambient air temperature, was an Astrofest hit.
Mr. Kendrick went into production and began selling his system at trade shows and by mail order. Business has gone skyward ever since. A rave review in the May 1995 issue of Sky and Telescope -- the essential magazine of astronomy -- was a big boost.
Knowing his target market was global, with most of his potential customers residing in the US, Kendrick was one of the first in Canada to set up a Web site (www.kendrick-ai.com). His was also one of the first companies to use electronic shopping carts and accept credit card orders online. He set up a shopping cart system because his dew removal system opened doors for him to sell other optical products and accessories. With the low Canadian dollar, he was able to fulfill orders in the US and save amateur astronomers money on equipment and accessories, as well as alleviate their dew point frustration.
One per cent of the world's astronomers, over 15,000 people, now own the Kendrick Dew Removal System. About 85 per cent of his sales go to the US. The rest are split evenly between Canada and the rest of the world. Sales continue to climb.
To accommodate his growing business, he opened a retail outlet, Kendrick Astro Instruments, in the west end of Toronto three years ago, and he continues to innovate.
Mr. Kendrick designed an adjustable observation chair that astronomers can move up or down and swing around as they adjust their telescope to the changing night sky. And he recently launched an observatory tent, a two-room tent with a zip out roof on one side. Astronomers can set up telescopes yet stay out of the wind as they go star hunting. When they are done, they tuck away their components on one side of the tent and sleep on the other side.
Asked how the chair and tent ideas came about, Kendrick says he was in a field observing the sky through his now permanently dew-free telescope lens, constantly adjusting his position as the night sky changed, when the wind picked up and began to bother him. "I thought wouldn't it be nice to have a chair that let me.... and a tent that let me..."
With those thoughts, the innovator produced two more pearls that astronomers around the world admire almost as much as they do the night sky.