Archive for ‘Stories’ Category


Restoration Tools: Game-Changing Products

Monday, January 1st, 2018

Restoration Tools: Game-Changing Products

Bringing a good idea to fruition can be overwhelming. But the process – and the results – are worth it.

“Being new to the invention game has kept us on the edge of the learning curve throughout the process,” said Charlie Hare, co-owner of Restoration Tools. Charlie, his daughter Jocelyn and third team member, Marcus Smith, have created the “Aerator”–a utilitarian tool which solves a multitude of issues in the restoration field including cleanliness, a safer work environment, and increased efficiency. 

When the team first brought their idea to Mike Cobert at NIU EIGERlab’s Center for Profit Development (C4PD), they had a long list of inventions they were interested in bringing to the market. Mike advised the team to hone in on one, learn the process, align themselves with the manufacturers, and move forward.

“Looking back, this was sage advice,” said Jocelyn Hare. “C4PD has assisted with the durability study, providing a comprehensive project management punch list, and an impressive list of invaluable connections–we are so far ahead of where we would have been with their assistance.”

In addition to working with the C4PD, the team has embraced regional entrepreneurial offerings such as NIU EIGERlab’s Innovation Tuesday Meetups, Thinker Profit’s weekly 1M Cups, and a variety of Rockford Chamber events.

“By attending NIU EIGERlab’s Meetups, we’ve had an impressive number of our questions answered by both legal and financial experts,” said Jocelyn. In addition to gleaning valuable information, and meeting people who they can potentially partner with, they’ve also met entrepreneurs who are either steps ahead or behind in regards to formulating their businesses.The entrepreneurial network has been a strong source of support and encouragement.

“I can’t say enough about the importance of networking, and paying it forward,” shared Charlie. “Our team members are some of NIU EIGERlab’s biggest cheerleaders, and we use every opportunity to share information on this exceptional local asset.”

“It’s been a pleasure working with the Restoration Tools team, and we’re looking forward to an ongoing relationship as they commercialize their entire group of restoration-related tools,” Mike Cobert shared. “When entrepreneurs are involved in the day-to-day operations, streamlining, safety, and efficiency are often the results. This new line of tools will assist with improved working conditions and additional revenues. I believe Restoration’s revolutionary tools will change the restoration industry!”

NIU EIGERlab embraces startups and supports entrepreneurs like the Restoration Tools team along the pathway toward success. Programming and services are in place at two NIU EIGERlab locations to assist startups and existing businesses—entrepreneurs in all phases. To learn more about how NIU EIGERlab can help you develop your idea or grow your business, visit or call 815.753.2192.

Click here for the entire article.

Entrepreneurial Clients to Watch!

Friday, December 1st, 2017

Whether they are selling consumer goods or assisting nonprofits, entrepreneurs have an inventor’s resolve that sets them apart from the crowd. Here are the stories of two NIU EIGERlab clients that have identified a problem, created a solution and are succeeding as entrepreneurs. 

Nicole Sdao is founder/CEO of NonProfitTHRIVE, a product enabling nonprofits to procure and manage volunteers and track volunteer hours all using one seamless, easy-to-use system.

A life-long volunteer and chiropractor by profession, Nicole thought there should be a simpler, more intuitive way to assist both volunteers with the desire to contribute and nonprofits with the need for volunteers. She used her skills to develop an innovative software product that helps both audiences.

Nicole won NIU EIGERlab’s “Spirit of Entrepreneurship” FastPitch Competition award in 2015. Today, she has a total of 515 registered volunteers, 73 nonprofits (19+ in Rockford) and is currently an incubating client in gBETA’s sought-after nationally ranked startup accelerator for early-stage companies with local roots.

NonProfitTHRIVE’s web-based platform captures verified volunteer hours applying that data for a variety of purposes including PR–marketing companies community engagement, taxes, and to attract new personnel—specifically millennials. Until now, this labor-intensive process was the nonprofit’s responsibility to record.

“I think the most defining steps for an entrepreneur are the ones taken after listening to push-back, Nicole says…“Identifying the nature of the push-back will help you to process whether to stay the course or pivot.”

For more information about NonProfitTHRIVE, go to

Santosh Arcot is president of Titan IP, a company engaged in inventing, developing, manufacturing and launching new and innovative products in the consumer goods space like others who have chosen to escape from corporate America, Santosh’s previously demanding role as a global marketing manager at a large healthcare company left him with no time for family or friends. He was testing the entrepreneurial waters with his first product on a part-time basis but decided to take the plunge of being a full-time entrepreneur in late 2013 and hasn’t looked back.

Santosh learned the ins and outs of bringing a product to market with his first invention, but because of manufacturing issues, he chose to move forward with product number two, which has been a growing success—the HopperTopper™, the ultimate lawn and leaf bag reusable funnel, which is made in the USA. Again, he targeted a pain point that anyone with a yard and trees have—making the removal of leaves and other yard waste more manageable.

The success of the HopperTopper has been impressive. Within one year of hitting the market, the HopperTopper can be found 2000 Walmart locations. Additional retail outlets carrying the product include Bed Bath & Beyond, True Value Hardware, Ace Hardware, DoItBest, Amazon and, soon, Home Depot. Santosh is currently working with NIU EIGERlab’s Center for Product Development on a new product that will launch at the 2018 National Hardware Show in May. He is continually considering new problems to solve and new products to invent.

“I told my wife: if you find that there is any task around the house or yard that you think could be improved, be sure to let me know,” Santosh says with a smile. Visit for more information.

NIU EIGERlab embraces startups and supports entrepreneurs like Nicole and Santosh along the pathway toward success. Programming and services are in place at two NIU EIGERlab locations to assist startups and existing businesses—entrepreneurs in all phases. To learn more about the programming and services available, visit or call 815.753.2192.

Click here for the complete article.

Medical-device, Anestand™, Takes Top FastPitch Prize November’s “Voice”

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017


Medical-device, Anestand™, Takes Top FastPitch Prize

The 11th annual FastPitch Competition was a colossal success with 32 eager presenters–from a total of four states–sharing their ideas, products, services, and apps vying for over $7,500 dollars in prizes and presenting, possibly, the Next Big Thing!

Trevor Gibbs, M.D., took home the $5,000 first prize for his Anestand™ product. Anestand™ holds supplies essential for an anesthesiologist to induce anesthesia in a hygienic way, which keeps the items immediately available at arm’s length. Currently, there is no designated location to place all the items doctors use to put a patient to sleep. The device is versatile as it can attach to the operating room table or any pole, post or hospital bed, allowing the anesthesiologist to work in a variety of situations. Gibbs has been perfecting his product with the assistance of NIU EIGERlab’s Center for Product Development Team.

Jared Larson took second place with his innovative fishing-related tool, the GunkStick, which offers fishermen and women a solution to tackling the problem of keeping their rods and reels free of debris. It is designed to catch and remove cottonwood seeds, weeds, and other debris before it creates a problem. This product is currently sold in Bass Pro Shops and online. Larson was proud to share that all of their processes and products are sourced in the USA. Visit for more information.

Elisabeth Stecki, the third place winner, presented her Travel Sufficient Alcohol Kits or TSA-Kitä. The TSA-Kitä allows air travelers to bring their own alcoholic beverages into airports and onto their flights. The glass bottles packaged in the water resistant, transparent, durable bags meet TSA Homeland Security regulations. Her kits provide significant cost savings and hassle-free air travel for the consumer many times over. Visit for more information.

Entrepreneur and inventor Emarc Malavolti, took home the coveted Dale Falconer Spirit of Entrepreneurship award including a six-month complimentary coworking and counseling at NIU EIGERlab’s LaunchPad! space in Rockford with his product Fresh2Go. Fresh2Go provides convenient oral hygiene in one small re-sealable pouch which is currently sold in a variety of types of businesses throughout Freeport, Ill.

Chad Wilson took home both The Freedom Field’s CleanTech award and the Student award with his Electric Vehicle Technologies (EVT). He presented the Team’s invention by driving an all-electric, street-legal prototype on stage. The EVT team’s goal is to capture a percentage of the ever-growing renewable energy industry market.

Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara delivered a thought-provoking keynote speech injected with humor and shared his enthusiasm from being energized by all of the talented, passion-filled presenters at Rockford’s version of “Shark Tank.” The mayor shared the programs his administration is developing to fast-track entrepreneurs with interest in starting local businesses.  He concluded with the sentiment that his door is always open for the engaging entrepreneurial conversation.

For the entire list of the FastPitch presenters and their website links, visit

NIU EIGERlab embraces startups. Programming and services are in place at both NIU EIGERlab locations to assist startups and existing businesses—entrepreneurs in all phases. To learn more about the programming and services available, visit or phone 815.753.2192.


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!