With 2015 now in the record books, a look back shows just how busy and…
Jodi May, the sole proprietor of Sugar Britches, brought her handmade candies. May is currently a wholesaler, but someday she’d like to open a small store in downtown Rockton, Ill., where she’s a village trustee.
Brad Marshall and Paul Fowler showed off their AdsOrTails, a smartphone app that connects Rockford consumers with local businesses. Users provide feedback on the ads they see to win gift cards and earn discounts; businesses receive that data and reap greater foot traffic. Marshall thinks the business can grow like Groupon.
PJ McGuire traveled from Chicago to demonstrate her Wraperoo. As seen on Good Morning America, it’s “a towel to dry your hair, a cape to style your hair, a cape to apply make-up when you are already dressed and a cape and towel for root touch-up and hair color.”
Each brought bold ideas, vision, passion and drive, said Dan Cataldi, executive director of NIU EIGERlab. Such ambitions – more than 500 have presented in the competition’s nine-year history – are proven creators of jobs and wealth in the community.
“FastPitch was created nine years ago to identify, support and celebrate creators, designers, builders, makers and dreamers. The competition embodies the heritage of the region – the innovators, entrepreneurs and risk-takers who built our community,” Cataldi said.
“There are winners today, but there are no losers. Everyone who invests their time today will get something out of this event,” he added. “Investors have met companies and made private investments here. Companies have found partners here. New ideas have emerged from collaborations initiated here.”
Walking through the NIU-Rockford lobby offered reassurance that the American Dream is alive and well.
Among the 40 businesses and bright ideas on display?
Bedbug traps. Exercise clothing with sensors that send real-time data to smartphones. Locally roasted coffee grounds. The X-Cube. A website that helps non-profits raise funds. An aluminum cap that extends the lifespan of weed-whackers. All-natural products for bath and body. A tarp fastener that guarantees “no more ripped grommets.” Devices that shield implanted, programmable medical devices from magnet (and electromagnetic) fields. A fun way to swat flies and other insects. Doula and lactation services. Affordable video production for non-profits. A mobile app that combines video games with exposure response prevention therapy.
Competitors faced panels consisting of three judges during the afternoon preliminary rounds.
Three minutes were all they had to describe their products or services, define their target markets, explain how they’ll make money, identify their competition, talk up their competitive advantage and illuminate others behind the scenes and the strengths those people provide.
Judges asked questions and offered advice on the pitches, something not allowed during the final rounds, when 13 entrepreneurs faced all 12 judges and an audience of their peers.
“This is amazing. Anytime you’re able to pitch your business is always a good opportunity,” said McGuire, whose brainstorm came the day she spilled a beauty product on her favorite blouse while rushing to get ready for work.
Formerly in medical device sales, she’s been working the Wraperoo for eight months and plans to invest her winnings in manufacturing more inventory.
“It’s kind of mindboggling,” she said. “I’m at such a beginning stage of my company, and this is really validation that I have a good product and that I need to keep going.”
Doug Hoang, CEO and founder of Enflux, maker of the 4Motion gym clothing, claimed second place and $1,000. AdsOrTails took third, winning $500 for Marshall and Fowler.
Nicole Sdao, founder and president of FundraisingCommittee.net, earned the Dale Falconer Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award. She received $1,000 and a six-month membership at the business incubator of her choice, adding $1,350 to the prize.
Tim Benedict’s Diesel Life Support System won the $500 Clean Tech Award
All winners and competitors carry the flag and “continue the vibe” of Rockford’s early entrepreneurs of decades ago, said Sherry Pritz, marketing coordinator for EIGERlab.
“This is to help people think outside the box, to entertain the idea of wanting their own business, pursuing their own dreams,” Pritz said.
“We will assist them moving forward with a plethora of things they can take advantage of, be it working on their prototype, connecting with a manufacturer, honing their investor pitch, connecting with investors and working on their financial aspects and business plans.”
And it will grow.
Cataldi intends to create a regional competition; EIGERlab already has shared its template with, and assisted, similar competitions in Racine, Rock and Walworth counties in Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, as the NIU Innovation Network is constructed, the Rockford-based incubators will collaborate with Rev3 and its co-working space at NIU-Naperville as well as Catalyze Chicago; and will strive to foster entrepreneurship in the communities of DeKalb and Hoffman Estates, where another NIU regional center is located.
“Our results are phenomenal,” Cataldi said. “We’re creating jobs.”