Coffee tugo: Denver ER nurse invents coffee cup holder that attaches to your rolling suitcase

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Clumsy, caffeine-crazed travelers who love carry-on luggage, rejoice. A Denver psychiatric nurse named Karen Porte has solved all of your problems. Porte is the inventor of the tugo, "a cup holder that keeps your drink suspended between the upright handles of your rolling bag," according to the tugo website. So you don't spill your coffee on your damn self.

The tugo recently won an honorable mention at the DaVinci Inventor Showcase in Broomfield. It's also gotten some good press in The Economist, FoxNews.com and the Today show, where Kathie Lee thwacked it with a rolled-up piece of paper.

But despite all of the attention, Porte and her husband, Tom, haven't been able to quit their day jobs -- yet. She still works as an ER nurse at Denver Health, and he runs his own business selling scissors to hairdressers. Reached by phone, Tom Porte describes the genesis of the tugo like this: "The inventor is my wife, Karen Porte. She is an ER nurse who had been traveling a lot to visit a sick mom. But she had no place to hold her coffee while she was on the concourse, moving, and even when she was sitting at the gate."

But then, he says, "she got a flash out of the blue," and the idea for the tugo was born.

That was back in 2008. The first prototype, Tom Porte says, was cobbled together by Karen with things she had around the house, including scraps of neoprene, a few buttons, two binder clips and part of a Crocs shoe because "she really liked the material." Karen showed her prototype to a patent lawyer, who gave it the thumbs-up. From there, she worked with an engineer to create with the current design.

The tugo debuted in April 2009. Since then, the Portes have pedaled it at travel-industry showcases and gatherings of coffee-business insiders. Tom Porte says it's currently sold in travel catalogues and at sixty retailers nationwide, including two at Denver International Airport: First Class Baggage and Airport Baggage Center. A classic tugo sells for $9.95, while the tugo plus H20tugo, a net-like accessory designed to hold water bottles, costs $12.95.

Tom Porte says the couple's goal is to sell the tugo full-time. "We'd like to be a large-scale company," he says. But until then, they're grateful for the buzz. "Everybody hits their forehead with palm of their hand and says, 'Why didn't I think of that?'"

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