Archive for ‘Stories’ Category


Senior Living, No Longer a Stint at the Shady Pines

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

 If you’re a fan of The Golden Girls, you may remember the ongoing reference to Sophia’s dreaded nursing home, “Shady Pines.” Vinni Cavallaro Torrisi, the creator, and owner of a business dedicated to helping seniors transition from large to smaller living spaces says that things are different today: “The options that senior adults have today is nothing like the ‘Shady Pines’ of yesteryear.”

Vinni’s trademarked, educational downsizing process, including her 44-page workbook, NowSizing, Making Room for Life!, guides senior citizens and their family members on accomplishing the difficult task of moving from a large family home into a more suitable sized living environment. In 2013, the NowSizing™ guidebook won an international Mature Online Marketing Business Award.

Entrepreneurs often start businesses because of a personal goal. They produce a product or service which makes a difference. Vinni’s passion for creating NowSizing™ is due to her loving relationship with her mother. The more time she spent with her mom, age 85, she understood the psychology behind “saving the good china for later,” and the difficulties experienced by seniors being gently forced from their homes and familiar surroundings. Her goal is to assist seniors and help them understand that they are moving memories, not things. In many cases, older adults equate the distress of a later life move with the emotional stress of losing their spouse. In 1991, the symptoms associated with the stress of seniors moving was officially identified as Relocation Stress Syndrome.

Because of Vinni’s passion, she was chosen as the 2016 FastPitch Competition winner of the Dale Falconer, “Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award.” The Falconer Award recognizes a FastPitch participant who passionately goes above and beyond. While there is often a healthy debate about who should win this award, FastPitch leaders and judges were quick to agree that Vinni should take the honor last year.   

“Developing a personal relationship with the NowSizing client is essential to the successful and dignified relocation of that older adult,” Vinni explained. “Working with NIU EIGERlab in conjunction with the ‘FastPitch,’ competition helped me to succinctly define and convey this message which is experiential in nature, into a tangible message, with strong deliverables. The Rockford area is so fortunate to have NIU EIGERlab as a go-to incubator resource for business.”

One of the many tools in Vinni’s toolkit is providing her clients with a 2D rendering of their new space, illustrating how their personal belongings will fit. “If my clients have input and can visualize the space before leaving their homes, it significantly reduces their anxiety, which helps both my clients and their family members,” she said. “With this global economy, my client’s children or closest relatives often live either out of state or even outside the U.S. These tools can be shared long-distance which assists in less overall stress. We show our clients that independence is not dictated by life space, but rather by lifestyle.”

Many of Vinni’s clients keep in touch with her long after their business relationship has been concluded, a testament to the value she is providing and the sensitivity and respect she shows during the downsizing process. To learn more about Vinni and her services, visit

Utilitarian Beauty Tool’s Sales Grow Exponentially: the recoup BEAUTISCOOP | Rockford Chamber’s “The Voice”

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Utilitarian Beauty Tool’s Sales Grow Exponentially: the recoup BEAUTISCOOP

Michelle Gast, the winner of NIU EIGERlab’s 2016 FastPitch Competition, is a self-proclaimed “idea person.” Since she was a teenager, she has envisioned a variety of useful inventions—”build a better mousetrap.” Michelle became truly driven when she realized that others had invented a minimum ten products that she had previously imagined.

One day, she was unable to reach the remaining amount of her skin-care product in its container. She went to her kitchen but found no utensils that were small enough to assist. After she had become serious about turning her idea into an invention, she began to watch NBC’s “The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch,” and it confirmed her opinion that anyone from any walk of life could become an inventor with enough drive.

She thought of her invention back in 2006, but shelved any efforts regarding a patent and production until her sons were in school—she then became serious. She spent time planning and executed next steps including connecting with Brian DiBona from the McHenry College’s Small Business Development Center who led her to Mike Cobert of NIU EIGERlab’s Center for Product Development. Mike assisted her with first converting her idea into a design and then produced working prototypes. The final step was to introduce Michelle to a local manufacturer.

She was encouraged to compete in the 2015 FastPitch Competition but elected to wait until the 2016 event. Discovering that her competition was quite stiff, self-doubt crept in, and she nearly declined to compete. She spent two full days developing and practicing her pitch and was elated to win first prize. “Winning FastPitch put the wind back in my sails,” Michelle shared. “It confirmed, once again, that I have a desirable product. Now it’s just a matter of getting the word out!”

Her advice to others includes believing in your invention and what you can accomplish. Most inventors prefer to wait until their widget, packaging or marketing materials are perfect, but waiting too long can be somewhat paralyzing. “It can all start with you…one person can make a huge difference,” Michelle stated.

Michelle has bootstrapped her invention both financially and in regards to the sales and marketing. She did her homework and learned the process to submit her product for consideration to beauty product related magazines. When REAL SIMPLE (RS) magazine chose her product, the recoup BEAUTISCOOP, to be featured in the “Pretty Smart…latest beauty products” section in their January 2017 issue, sales grew exponentially. RS‘s fantastic coverage resulted in sales of the recoup BEAUTISCOOP in 48 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. This incredible response again confirmed her unique invention is an ingenious product that women love. One of Michelle’s favorite sayings is, “Move and the way will open.” The recoup BEAUTISCOOP is available on her website,

What does the U.S. Government, Duck Dynasty and Ted Nugent have in common?

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

From left to right: Duck Dynasty’s Jay Stone, John Goodwin, Justin Martin and Jeff Sorensen of Inhibitor

They are all clients of Jeff Sorensen. Jeff, founder of Inhibitor, an industrial strength, rust preventative system, has been a client of NIU EIGERlab’s Center for Product Development (C4PD) since its inception. Jeff’s well-known clients range from the Robertson family—better-known as A&E’s Duck Dynasty— Ted Nugent, Plano, Remington, the U.S. Government and a more locally known Midwest retail chain, Menards. He’s proud to share this is an American-made product.

Jeff has two additional claims to fame: owner of the first incubating company at NIU EIGERlab and one of the first companies that employed NIU EIGERlab’s 3D printing services. In utilizing all of the services which encompassed NIU EIGERlab’s one-stop resources, he completed the barrage of paperwork—an essential step to doing business with the U.S. Government—and now sells his unique products to four branches of the armed forces: Army, Marines, Air Force and National Guard. They use his rust preventative system on everything from handguns to tank barrels.

While still in high school, Jeff’s first entrepreneurial undertaking was men’s cosmetics and fragrances. With the economic downturn in the 80’s, he moved on to what would prove to be a more lucrative and innovative invention. He received his big break with the Inhibitor, which piqued the interest of Snap-on based in Kenosha, Wisconsin. There was an amazingly short window of time between the first sales call for the Inhibitor Toolbox Plug and Snap-on’s first sizeable order. NIU EIGERlab’s C4PD played a key role in his ability to quickly fill the order by utilizing their rapid prototyping equipment.

After almost 18 years, Jeff has built market share, brand and respect along the way. Jeff lives by the statement, “If you don’t innovate, you don’t survive,” and continues to call NIU EIGERlab’s C4PD a partner in his success. The Duck Dynasty crew have used his products since the onset, and Ted Nugent, an avid hunter, uses and strongly endorses the products. Jeff experiences approximately 10,000 website hits each month and has shipped Inhibitor products to many countries throughout the world.

Jeff’s future plans include a totally new endeavor—writing a book. He feels that sharing his crazy experiences including all of the twists, turns, setbacks, successes and offers to purchase his company, are something most inventors and entrepreneurs experience. He’d like to share his wisdom to assist others with avoiding setbacks. During his journey, even though he’s experienced disappointing lows, the exhilarating highs have outweighed the setbacks. Jeff stated, “He wouldn’t have chosen any other path.”

Greenlee’s Teams Utilized all our Region’s Business Incubator had to Offer

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

CTF-200_app21_hrBecause EIGERlab, our region’s business incubator, has many assets to assist both startups and established enterprises, Greenlee once again elected to assign a group of engineers to work off site and execute their new project in record time. The decision paid off. After taking advantage of EIGERlab’s Center for Product Development, video conferencing capabilities, and both the office and lite industrial spaces, Greenlee was able to procure, build, test and put the finishing touches on  their new machine, the CTF-200 Cable Tray Feeder (CTF-200), in approximately five months.

This is the second “skunkworks” type project Greenlee has completed at EIGERlab. “After realizing Greenlee was short on space and considering the positive results we realized on our first project, it was a no-brainer to return to EIGERlab,” said Dan Marben, electrical engineer with Greenlee. When they were assigned to execute the project at EIGERlab, Greenlee’s management team knew the group aligned with the project could remain fully focused on the task at hand without the typical day-to-day operational distractions. With the close proximity of Greenlee’s main headquarters to EIGERlab, Greenlee’s management had the ability to regularly check on the team’s progress.

Founded in 1862, Greenlee builds on over 150 years of customer-driven innovation. From woodworking, barrel-making, and machine tool beginnings to the present day selection of Hand Tools, Knockouts, Wire and Cable Fishing/Pulling/Termination, Bending, Electronic Test and Measurement, and other solutions.  This trend continues with the creation of the CTF-200, which met two important goals: a quick ROI coupled with safe operations. Keeping human capital safe was one of the key features regarding the CTF-200. Because you don’t have a human pulling on a rope, it’s designed to not only be safer way to move cable, but mounts quickly saving precious set up time, along with another distinguishing feature, only one person is needed to operate it. “Regarding ROI, the turnaround is quick, Marben shared. Depending upon how long and intricate the job is, the CTF-200 could pay for itself during the first assignment.”

Mike Cobert, EIGERlab’s assistant director who oversees the Center for Product Development, applauds Greenlee for continuing to be an innovative company producing state-of-the-art equipment. “It was a pleasure working with both of Greenlee’s teams—we were happy to assist them in any way. We take pride in working with start-ups and seasoned entities such as Greenlee to deliver a complete product development package versus just 3D printing,” stated Cobert.

Click here to view the CTF-200 in action.

NIU Student Design Team Collaborates with EIGERlab’s Center for Product Development

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

20150129_NIU_Student_Design_TeamNIU’s mechanism design and analysis student team was assigned a challenging project—create a six-legged walking robot complete with a Hoeckens Linkage to compete with fellow student teams. Post design, they enlisted EIGERlab to print their creation utilizing additive manufacturing or 3D printing. Haley Cummings, a junior mechanical engineering major on the team, said, “The students were given design constraints by the professor, which included adding a Hoeckens linkage. Translation, it had to have six legs, walk, and have three feet on the ground at all times. This mechanism makes the legs of the robot walk along a path guided by the front leg.”

Click here for the complete article.

Award-winning Entrepreneur Unveils Simple Solution to Everyday Household Problem

Monday, December 1st, 2014


Tracie Burress, first place winner of EIGERlab’s 2014 FastPitch Competition, has quickly moved her invention forward since her win mid-June. sockTABs, her American-made product, is an ingenious pairing device for socks, which provides a simple solution to an everyday household problem: the infamous “sock monster!” Tracie’s goal is to revolutionize the way we do laundry and help households save money and time in the process.

“We’re so impressed with what Tracie has accomplished in five, short months since FastPitch,” said Sherry Pritz, the event organizer. “In June, she competed with only her product prototype to share with the judges; no sales, no contracts.”

Click here for the complete article.

Thank you to EIGERlab’s Center for Product Development: “Now I can salute at Girl Scouts!”

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Raegan_Reynolds_two upRaegan_Reynolds_two upRaegan_Reynolds_two upFNot unlike other precocious first graders, Raegan Reynolds has a smile that lights up a room with her mesmerizing blue eyes. What makes Raegan ever so slightly different from her peers is her birth defect—her right hand did not fully develop.

Raegan’s parents, Katie and Scott, have been pursuing all avenues in order to help Raegan with her challenge. “Insurance pays for only one prosthetic over the course of a lifetime, and we agreed that decision should be made by Raegan when she is an adult,” Katie said. After learning how Boylan assisted other children with 3D printed prosthesis, Raegan’s Aunt Beth contacted them to see if they could assist Raegan. Much to the family’s dismay, they learned that Boylan could not. Beth then Googled 3D printing and discovered that it is a service offered locally at the EIGERlab.

After searching for a solution for over two years, Katie and Scott are elated for their daughter, and are already noticing her confidence-level growing. The Highland Elementary School first grader chose her prosthetic to be printed in her school colors. Raegan shared, “Other little kids will think my new hand is awesome!”

EIGERlab’s Assistant Director, Mike Cobert stated, “It is always exciting and challenging to help companies solve problems with their innovative products. However, it is not nearly as rewarding as the smile on Raegan’s face when she put her new additive manufactured [3D printed] hand on for the first time. It is priceless!”

FastPitch Competition winner chosen for INPEX Inventor’s Convention: No Risk, No Reward

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014
Adrian Vasquez and George Foreman at the 2014 INPEX Convention

Adrian Vasquez and George Foreman at the 2014 INPEX Convention

After Adrian Vasquez, inventor of the NZ3 hair product, won second place in the 2013 FastPitch Competition, he set his sights on a higher prize: being accepted to participate in the Invention and New Product Exposition (INPEX)—the world’s largest invention tradeshow. INPEX provides a forum for inventors to exhibit their inventions and pitch their ideas with companies interested in licensing, marketing and manufacturing their new products.

Since he met so many key individuals, including representatives from QVC, SkyMall Magazine, a broker in the beauty industry who is interested in handling his products exclusively, and George Foreman of George Foreman Cooking Products, Adrian shared, “It was worth every mile.”

Another accomplishment resulting from his participation is being chosen as one of 35—from a total of 400 who applied—to move to step two with QVC this September in Las Vegas. “It’s a huge compliment to be included in such an exclusive group. QVC representatives shared many tips and clues to move my business forward, such as the importance of having two applicable product markets. In regard to the NZ3, the obvious market is haircare, but the second, which I had not considered, is the pet market—a $55.7 billion dollar industry in 2013,” Adrian explained.

Adrian, who is both an inventor and owner of Totally You Hair Salon, is thankful to the staff at EIGERlab’s Center for Product Development, his local manufacturer and everyone who assisted him along his entrepreneurial journey. He stated, “As an entrepreneur and inventor, you never stop learning!”

Where can you hear a successful serial entrepreneur share his secrets to success AND view Rockford’s version of Shark Tank?

Sunday, June 1st, 2014
2014 FastPitch Competition

Joe Abraham, the founder of BOSI Global

At this year’s FastPitch Competition, you’ll be able to not only watch competitors share their version of the “Next Big Thing,” but also hear a successful serial entrepreneur share his secrets to success. It’s the region’s version of Shark Tank, but without the bite!

Keynote speaker, Joe Abraham, is a professional entrepreneur and investor who has the battle scars to prove it. Abraham has successfully launched multiple companies and is the founder of BOSI Global which operates a $100 million portfolio of companies in the United States and Europe. These industries range from IT and Wellness to Personal Development and Motorsports. He has won numerous awards for his impact on global entrepreneurship and is the author of Entrepreneurial DNA, a critically acclaimed book based on his multi-year research into entrepreneurs and their teams. Whether you are a FastPitch presenter or an experienced business ownerinterested in learning howto increase your profits through growth strategies, everyone will glean entrepreneurial insights from Abraham’s informative talk.

One of our 2013 FastPitch presenter finalists, Robyn Scott, owner of PURELY CultureCare shared, “Thank you for all of your hard work in organizing the FastPitch Competition. It was a terrific learning experience and a great networking opportunity.”

With a top prize of $5,000 at stake, it will be well-worth three minutes of your time! In addition to second, third and student prizes, this year offers a CleanTech prize totaling $500. By presenting at the 8th annual FastPitch Competition, it’s your chance to validate your business idea…meet people who can help you succeed and maybe win a cash prize. For more information on how to apply, visit; entry deadline is June 4.

Joe Abraham will share his tricks of the trade at 6 p.m. so be sure to arrive by 5 p.m. to visit the FastPitch presenter’s expo and grab a bite to eat. Batter up!

Roundtable Efforts: Collaboration | Communication | Results

Thursday, May 1st, 2014
EIGERlab, IT Roundtable

EIGERlab’s, IT Roundtable

With the objective of assisting individual companies in specific targeted clusters, EIGERlab has been organizing and developing roundtable focus groups intent on identifying and addressing barriers to business growth. EIGERlab Roundtables are monthly discussions with community leaders, business owners and corporate executives in similar business clusters that identify pressing issues and outline collaborative short-term action plans to address them.

The concept behind bringing together groups of owners and leaders in similar types of businesses is to focus on common problems and barriers related to their business growth hindering their ability to grow, to create collaboration and trust, to understand collective resources and collaborate and to expand employee pools through community branding.

IT Roundtable member, Phil Wasson said, “The IT Roundtable has been an excellent opportunity to learn of local Information Technology resources that are available in the Rockford area.  It also allows participants to learn about the varied needs and strategies of companies, non-profits, and government entities from right here in the Rockford region.”

As a result of a recent IT Roundtable Open Tech Challenge event (Hackathon), several apps were created to assist the City of Rockford and will be available to the community soon. These open tech challenges bring volunteer programmers and coders together to create apps that address specific social and governmental problems. The resulting phone apps are owned and utilized by our city, county or appropriate not-for-profits. Christopher Whitaker, civic technologist with Smart Chicago Collaborative and “White House Champion of Change for Civic Hacking” is instrumental in advocating for and spearheading these Hackathons.

521 Rockford, the newest of the roundtables, is comprised of 25 companies targeted at supporting and creating a more robust minority business community. The 521 Initiative (5 Planning Areas; 2 Business Enterprises; 1 mission) is targeted at growing and strengthening the Minority-owned Business Community in the Rockford Region. Excell Lewis, owner of XL Academics, who was instrumental in creating the foundation of 521 shared, It is refreshing to see members of 521 reinvest in Greater Rockford. I am positive that the efforts of this initiative will assist in revitalizing small business ownership by creating sustainable jobs.

TechWorks Manufacturing Roundtable discussions have resulted in the creation of a new training program—FastTrack Assembly—to assist with new workforce needs. Companies such as Leading Edge Hydraulics, Fastenal and GE Aviation meet on a regular basis to discuss topics such as employment and best practices. Russ Dennis, CEO of Leading Edge Hydraulics stated, “As an advisory council we are discussing economic and employment trends, which are beneficial to all involved in the business planning/forecasting process.”