At Entrepreneur Launch Pad meetings, stalled innovation gets a boost
After months of low sales of his invention, Carl Snyder could not figure out what he was doing wrong.
He got his answer at the very first Entrepreneur Launch Pad (ELP) meeting he attended.
"It's ugly," the group told Snyder, as he held up his black and bright orange portable door alarm.
The assembly of lawyers, entrepreneurs, inventors, doctors and businessmen and women let him know what they thought, and Snyder made his way home to fix it.
He repackaged the alarm in a grey box with a clear label and immediately saw his sales jump.
"I hadn't thought about how it would appeal to customers, especially women," Snyder said. "I guess you really do have to please the whole household."
Hundreds of inventors and business owners have received similar suggestions and support in the group's nearly four years of operation. Designed to help people in various fields network to achieve success, the Entrepreneur Launch Pad has grown substantially from its first meeting in 2008.
Co-founder Andrew Willis said early meetings would attract around a dozen people. Today, the meetings in six locations along the Wasatch Front attract upward of 40 or more.
Willis said the networking sessions got their start as the economy began to sour and initially were designed to help unemployed workers find employers and other opportunities.
"It was like we were on a desert island and ships were sailing by in the distance," said the director of the Utah Small Business Development Center. "We realized we were going to have to build our own life raft."
Other co-founders were Jay Larkin, Michael Argust, Reed Walsh, Mark Freestone, Cary White and Scott Davis.
From those beginnings grew the idea of creating a support system for blossoming businesses. Each week in multiple locations eclectic groups of men and women gather to hear speakers who can help them succeed, to receive feedback on their ideas, and to help themselves to the buffet of business cards on the back table.
Tom Smokov said he can't remember just how long he has been attending meetings, but said the help was instrumental in producing and marketing his Water Pure Technologies products.
"It's like having a bunch of business partners without actually having partners," Smokov said.
Today, Smokov said his product, which purifies water, is growing in popularity and selling faster than he had ever imagined. One reason was the advice he received from those at ELP who had also experienced standstills in their businesses and were eager to talk him through it.
M. Troy Smalley sought help from ELP to make improvements on his invention, the KoolSpoon, a device that can be frozen and tempers hot foods for eating. He said he came up with the idea after blowing on countless spoonfuls of soup and other hot foods for his five kids.
Smalley stood before the roundtable of his peers at a recent meeting and asked why they thought the KoolSpoon had not tested well in commercials.
They said that marketing the product during a national heat wave probably didn't help. The group then suggested that Smalley market the KoolSpoon as a promotional item.
"I would have given up a long time ago if it weren't for this group," Smalley said. "Business is all about networking, and I think this group goes to show you why."
Just down the table from Smalley sat Joe Holmes, behind him a few models of his invention.
After struggling with poor health Holmes began walking to get exercise. He often struggled with the fact that there was no place to sit along the way.
To deal with the problem he decided to build a portable seat he could attach to his walking stick or cane.
Set up much like a milking stool, the Stickle Seat allows users to take a rest wherever they wander.
"I finally figured out how to support my weight," Holmes said. "And I'm not light."
After making a presentation to the ELP, Holmes decided to make the seat adjustable per the feedback he received.
Although he has come to a standstill in production, Holmes is confident that he will push through.
Executive consultant Dano Ybarra said he started coming to ELP meetings in 2009 because after moving from the Silicon Valley he knew very few people.
Ybarra, who had helped create the first DSL modem and later sold it for more than $1 billion, said he enjoys guiding others.
"I love helping because I've been where they're going," Ybarra said.
Find an Entrepreneur Launch Pad meeting near you
Wasatch Back (Park City)
For more information visit http://www.entrepreneurlaunchpad.org