Archive for ‘Stories’ Category

 

NIU EIGERlab Expands its Entrepreneurial Reach

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

NIU EIGERlab’s mantra has always been “a rising tide lifts all boats.” 

The unique combination of expertise, programming, services, and community connections offered at NIU EIGERlab helps startups and small businesses navigate the choppy waters of business growth and product development. One of the primary causes of small business failure is the isolation of the entrepreneur. NIU EIGERlab helps ensure that entrepreneurs are embraced and supported through their journey.

In the same vein, NIU EIGERlab works closely with regional partners to assist businesses in accelerating their development. NIU EIGERlab is a longtime partner with area Chambers of Commerce and economic development organizations. The Rockford Chamber’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) consults with business clients at NIU EIGERlab’s coworking space at NIU-Rockford. Other innovation partners include DeKalb County Incubator, Fox Valley SCORE, Irontek (Beloit), other regional SBDCs, Thinker Ventures (Rockford), and UWW (Whitewater). 

Drawing business to Rockford

NIU EIGERlab’s programs and activities draw entrepreneurs and investors from surrounding states to Rockford. Monthly Innovation Tuesday Meetup programs offer a wide-variety of top-of-mind subjects–bringing together solopreneurs, inventors, students, business owners, and those considering becoming an entrepreneur.

The 12th annual FastPitch Competition will be held October 3, 2018, at NIU-Rockford. Over the years, participants have shared that they valued the opportunity to win cash prizes, hone their pitches, and receive invaluable feedback. The 2017 winner, Dr. Trevor Gibbs invented Anestand, a tray which holds an anesthesiologists supplies is set to launch his product through the C4PD this spring. Gibbs identified a problem and invented a product which solves the problem of assisting anesthesiologists in inducing anesthesia in a hygienic way while keeping the items immediately available at arm’s length.

Both of NIU EIGERlab’s locations offer affordable accommodations for entrepreneurs and small businesses in Rockford and Loves Park. Cubicles and light industrial spaces are options in Loves Park, while cubicles and open coworking spaces are available at our East State Street location. Coworking members enjoy meeting with clients in a professional setting with an atmosphere conducive to doing business versus jangling spoons and other distractions at local coffee shops.

Collaboration is key

NIU EIGERlab urges entrepreneurs to seek opportunities to collaborate and the organization excels at collaboration as well. The Center for Product Development (C4PD) partners with industry leaders to acquire leading-edge equipment to help the C4PD provide leading-edge product development services to clients. Recently, Nota 3D provided a 3D Systems MJP 2500 Plus with the latest in materials that the industry has to offer. 

The C4PD recently held an open house for area manufacturers and technology enthusiasts to take a look at its current technologies and to introduce the area to a new 3D printer from Super 3D Plus that is capable of both ceramics and full color. There is a wide variety of applications including aerospace, dental, ornamental, artistry, and complicated fragile parts not easily produced on the legacy systems. 

Expanding throughout the region

NIU EIGERlab is taking its show on the road. Mike Cobert, director of the C4PD regularly meets with entrepreneurs in Naperville, Schaumburg, Elgin, and DeKalb. “I’m interested in removing any barriers that prevent us from connecting with inventors who need assistance moving their product ideas forward,” shared Mike.

NIU EIGERlab is increasingly familiar and connected throughout the region. This April, the NIU College of Business will replicate the signature FastPitch Competition on the DeKalb campus. Students will pitch their ideas and compete for a variety of prizes. Most importantly, they will receive valuable feedback and mentoring from NIU professors and alumni. NIU EIGERlab’s Sherry Pritz Enderle, longtime manager of FastPitch, is mentoring the students and faculty members as they plan their event.

Crowdfunding: Entrepreneurial Advice

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

Emily Hurd in front of her historic building, and future home of The Norwegian Restaurant | Photo credit: Tony Bartman

Crowdfunding, the increasingly popular practice of funding a venture by raising small amounts of money from a large number of people—not your typical investors–is now mainstream. Without this vehicle, an impressive number of innovative businesses would not have started, grown and, in some cases, exceeded their capital raising expectations.

When local entrepreneur Emily Hurd wanted to purchase a building to launch her restaurant, The Norwegian, she chose Kickstarter as her crowdfunding vehicle. Her campaign was appropriately named, “Soul Music for Soul Food: Save a Historic Rockford Building.” Emily stated, “All in all it was a positive experience, and I’d encourage others to take the plunge. I now have 1000 people who, at some level, continue to inspire and motivate me, and are interested in my restaurant succeeding. I’d categorize it as an emotional way of building capital.”

First steps. Emily advised, “People who are interested in crowdfunding should study successful campaigns, and create a video that’s an extension of yourself—make it real. Before submitting, have several people provide feedback since it is CROWDfunding.”

In hindsight, the only thing Emily would have changed is her level of rewards. With her newborn in tow, she fulfilled her higher-end rewards which included, “A five-course dinner for your guests (limit 20) at your home, prepared by Emily Hurd, with a solo house concert to follow (the United States & Canada only, please).” She didn’t thoroughly think through the commitment as a whole, and assumed very few would donate at the top level. Fortunately, she exceeded her $93K goal, but had unintentionally committed to 45 private concerts! Lastly, she shared, “Determine the amount you’d like to raise, but then take into account that approximately 30% of that total will be taxed.”

Emily’s Kickstarter campaign is still live providing a resource to glean from including her heartfelt video. We wish her only success in her endeavors.

In 2015, crowdfunding raised a noteworthy $34.4B. For example, Pebble (smartwatch), a crowdfunding success story, raised $30.6M in two campaigns starting in 2012—Kickstarter’s numbers one and three most successful campaigns of all time.

Is Pebble a success story? According to market intelligence firm International Data Corp., in 2014, “Pebble sold 1.8 million units, representing 8.6% of the global smartwatch market. Early crowdfunding campaigns put the startup on the map up against Apple and Google.”

Pebble founder Eric Migicovsky is currently in negotiations to sell Pebbles to Fitbit for $40M. Sound like a homerun?  Previously he turned down offers of $740M from Citizen and a second impressive offer of $70M from Intel. According to Quartz Media’s December 2016 article, “The sale price is less than Pebble’s debt, which Fitbit isn’t acquiring. Pebble will reportedly sell its inventory separately.” Self-confidence is necessary—being overly confident can be detrimental.

Do your homework. Crowdfunding entities such as Kickstarter and Indeigogo are for-profit businesses and do retain an impressive percentage for their platform’s performance, with, of course, no guarantees.

Regardless of how you plan to fund your invention, the same common sense business rules apply. Patent attorney Eric Waltmire with the Erickson Law Group shared, “If you have something new, you should consider seeking to protect your invention with a patent application before moving forward to test the market—such as by attempting to raise crowdfunding capital. We understand that in some scenarios it’s difficult to obtain traditional funding, but we want to educate our clients regarding what’s important from a legal perspective to assist them with their decision process—so they can weigh the risks and benefits of the available options.”

Progress Post FastPitch Competition: Grand Prize Winner’s Launch

Friday, January 26th, 2018

It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. Such was the case for Dr. Trevor Gibbs, an anesthesiologist who was often frustrated by a lack of space for his equipment during surgery. Since he began practicing in 2007, he has been thinking about a better way to organize and hold all the supplies necessary to put patients to sleep in a hygienic and organized manner. After eight years, Gibbs said to himself, “That’s it, I don’t know how, but I’m going to figure out a way to invent a device.”

During a recent Thinker Venture podcast, Gibbs reflected on his entrepreneurial journey so far.

His first call after completing his Internet research led him to SCORE–the nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors. He first connected with a mentor who had engineering experience. With his SCORE mentor’s referrals in hand, the following day he met with an intellectual property (IP) attorney. His next step was to begin a relationship with NIU EIGERlab. 

Mike Cobert of NIU EIGERlab’s Center for Product Development talked with Gibbs about what he wanted to do and connected him with an engineer who could help.

In talking with other inventors in the medical field, Gibbs was assured that the NIU EIGERlab and SCORE professionals were valuable and credible partners he’d heard horror stories of manufacturers closing their doors, keeping the inventor’s IP and expensive molds with no further communication, and was thankful for referrals to experts with strong reputations.

Today, Gibbs is the proud winner of the 2017 FastPitch Competition, has completed more field testing and plans to launch Anestand in June. But he says this device is only the beginning.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed the product development process, and I envision Anestand not to be just a solo product, but a line of medical products,“ he said. “The operating room is my inspiration where I can validate and measure my concepts. I plan to continue on the entrepreneurial path, and in the future, I envision working part-time in my practice, in addition to promoting my inventions, and running my business on a part-time basis.”

During the product development process, Gibbs was surprised by the amount of time and money required. He envisioned the Anestand would be available to purchase within one year, and he would be able to develop the product for approximately $30,000—both have doubled.

Gibbs is happy to encourage others to follow their entrepreneurial goals and has some advice to offer from his personal experience. The most important? Protect your idea. Be sure to do market research – are you the only person with this problem? Consider your situation: do you have the time and money to invest to get your product developed and into the marketplace? Finally, consider your corporate structure; look ahead in case you plan to sell.

“Being new to the business world, this process has been a bit stressful,” Gibbs said. “But it’s gratifying to develop an idea and see it work in a way that solves your problem and helps others.”

NIU EIGERlab embraces startups and supports entrepreneurs such as Dr. Trevor Gibbs 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 www.EIGERlab.org or call 815.753.2192.

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 www.EIGERlab.org or call 815.753.2192.

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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 https://nonprofitthrive.com/.

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 http://hopper-topper.com/ 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 www.EIGERlab.org or call 815.753.2192.

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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 www.mischieffishing.com 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 www.whineware.com/ 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 www.EIGERlab.org.

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 www.EIGERlab.org or phone 815.753.2192.

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

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015
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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.”

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Award-winning Entrepreneur Unveils Simple Solution to Everyday Household Problem

Monday, December 1st, 2014

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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.