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3D&L owner Doug Harris demonstrates the company's products that hold pipes in place.
SBJ file photo
3D&L owner Doug Harris demonstrates the company's products that hold pipes in place.

Pitch Contest winners travel divergent paths

Posted online

The Nov. 18 victory by 3D&L LLC in the Efactory’s Pitch Contest made the plumbing supply company the seventh winner of the annual startup competition.

In doing so, Doug Harris’ company was awarded $10,000 by event sponsor RMI Inc. It was the largest prize offered in the contest’s history, which started in 2014 as the Spin66 Pitch Pit.

3D&L’s win last month was preceded in 2019 by startup ECRI, which won $5,000 in the contest. Company founder Kevin Wyas said he’s invested around $150,000 to develop a wireless device and app that allows customers to use a phone or tablet to check and monitor vehicle settings, such as tire size and gear ratio.

After Wyas completed development late last year for product use in 2007-2021 models of Jeep Wranglers and Gladiators, he took the patent-pending technology to market in January. He said product sales, mostly through his company website, Amazon and eBay, started swiftly this year but were slowed by the coronavirus pandemic. Sales in April dropped by about 80% from the start of the year.

“This year, sales will probably be a little under $100,000,” he said. “Based on the first three months of the year, I was expecting to be somewhere around $300,000-$400,000.”

Moving on
While Wyas said he’s a bit disappointed by the sales numbers, 2015 pitch competition winner Damian Palmer never got to the sales phase of his company’s product.

Palmer created an app called Pressed and won a prize package valued at $9,000, which included $3,000 in cash, as well as legal and project-management services, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting. He said the app was designed as an “intelligent personal assistant” bringing users’ calendars and to-do lists into one spot to manage.

Palmer said the contest win didn’t provide the boost he hoped for his company. It shuttered in November 2016.

“It simply ran out of money,” he said, noting around $50,000 was invested before closing. “I learned the hard way you have to be very diligent about the people you hire.

“The technology behind it is was incredibly complicated. Sometimes it can be hard to verify if people are building the right thing when it comes to that next-level technology.”

At its peak, there were four staff members, along with a couple of Missouri State University interns. By late 2016, it was just Palmer and one other employee.

“I never really grew up like I needed to run the business at the time,” said Palmer, who turned 21 shortly before winning the contest in 2015. “Every day, I thought I’d figure it out on the way and I didn’t. It was pretty heartbreaking.”

Palmer said he was still maturing at the time.

“It was a tough decision of where do I go from here,” he said.

He’s since focused his professional time as a freelance web designer, with clients such as auto detailer Larsen Custom Details LLC and nonprofit Youth of the Ozarks Inc.

Aside from ECRI and Pressed, past Pitch Contest winners are Easy Access Hunts LLC in 2018; Solely Jolie, 2017; Eagle Speak LLC, 2016; and Make People Better LLC, 2014.

Solely Jolie founder Amy Blansit told SBJ last year she had roughly $10,000 in 2018 sales of the company’s silicone mat that cleans makeup brushes. However, Blansit said her full-time focus isn’t on the company, as she’s also an instructor at Missouri State University and founder of the Drew Lewis Foundation Inc.

Eagle Speak founders Jason Arend and Myke Bates sold their voice and video technology startup to Hearo Technologies in January 2019 for undisclosed terms, according to past SBJ reporting.

Calls to Joey Pate, founder and CEO of Easy Access Hunts, and Kerri Miller, CEO of Make People Better, were not returned by press time. Pate told SBJ last year his company had posted its first profits and was working with 25 landowners spanning 10,000 hunting acres and 90 active hunters.

Getting a boost
At ECRI, a tenant of the Efactory, Wyas said he’s testing the device for Ram truck applications, and Ford vehicles next. He hopes to have them available for sale next year. Expanding the applications could significantly increase the customer base, he said.

“The number of vehicles on the road that can use this technology will go up about tenfold,” Wyas said.

Since last year, he’s also developed and sells a security module bypass for 2018 and newer Jeeps that allows aftermarket devices to write new settings for vehicles.

Wyas said he mostly used the $5,000 from the pitch competition toward manufacturing, allowing him to make custom injection molds for his products.

“On top of that, it’s nice just having that kind of proof of concept of having strangers say ‘This is a pretty good idea and you should run with it.’ There was a big mental boost in addition to the award money,” he said.

Palmer agreed the contest is a confidence booster, win or lose.

“The big value then of doing that – and especially now – is to learn how to put your business idea into a conveyable message to other people,” he said.


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