Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneur’


Local ‘Shark Tank’ may be national springboard for Rockton woman’s RoomTagz business

Monday, March 17th, 2014

ROCKTON — AnnDee Nimmer was near tears minutes before she was to pitch her new business, RoomTagz, to a panel of business women.

Public speaking struck the Rockton woman as a curious fear. Before 2013, she had spent 20 years speaking daily to first-graders as a teacher for the Rockton School District.

“There’s a big difference.” Nimmer said. “Those are kids and you are trying to make the learning experience enjoyable — and they don’t judge you.”

Nimmer was one of seven women Feb. 19 to pitch their businesses during a Women’s Shark Tank Competition hosted by Enactus Rockford of Rock Valley College. Enactus is a club of aspiring business students that used to be called SIFE, for Students in Free Enterprise. The group received a grant from Wal-Mart that had to be used to benefit women in business.

So Enactus set up a competition based on “Shark Tank,” a TV show that appears at 8 p.m. Fridays on ABC. Launched in 2009 by the same team that created “Survivor,” the reality show features business owners trying to persuade a panel of judges to invest in them.

The February competition appears to be the first time a local group has tried to emulate the ABC show. Nimmer shouldn’t have worried. The panel of judges chose her business concept over the other six.

Sherry Pritz, marketing coordinator of Rockford’s EIGERlab, said the fact that Nimmer had competed in the group’s FastPitch competition in 2013 helped. Nimmer was a finalist in the annual challenge where entrepreneurs have one minute to sell their idea.

“She was very polished and she talked about a lot of the places she’s gone to sell her product,” Pritz said. “Her business has a lot of potential.”

Nimmer won $1,000 for taking first place in Shark Tank, “which I definitely need,” she said, plus office space and computer time at the EIGERlab in Rockford.

She’s not sure how much she’ll use the office space. She runs her business out of her home. Instead, she said, she is more excited to be working with the Enactus students as well as the professionals at RVC’s Small Business Development Center because she needs mentors to help her find more customers.

Fifteen years ago, Nimmer said she was frustrated by how difficult it is to find specific rooms in schools because there’s usually nothing to identify them except for room numbers. She created two-sided signs she could hang from the ceiling.

Then in 2012, Nimmer was caught up in the aftermath of The Great Recession.

The Rockton School District, faced with declining enrollment and a flattening of its once rapidly increasing property tax revenues, eliminated 18 certified teaching positions and an assistant principal’s job and reduced the hours of non-certified staff to cut $1.3 million from its budget.

Nimmer was one of the teaching cuts.

With districts all over struggling with the same budget problems, Nimmer needed a new career and decided to try to turn her signs into her livelihood.

Produced by Interstate Graphics of Machesney Park, the custom signs she sells can be hung from a ceiling or attached to a wall. At first, she took out ads in teaching industry magazines. She also contracted a former student, Chris Luttig, to create a website for her. Then she attended some conferences to show off her product.

“I thought teachers were going to be my market, but I found out it was principals,” Nimmer said.

She was extremely happy with her initial year of sales.

Her first was to a principal of Indian Camp Elementary School in Pawhuska, Okla. She now has signs in 39 schools in 21 states. The potential market is huge. As of 2010, there were 132,183 public and private elementary and high schools in the United States.

“When I went to do my taxes I had $53,000 in sales,” she said. “But once I started entering my costs — how much it cost to make and ship the signs and the travel costs to the conferences — I really didn’t make anything.”

Nimmer said she was happy to go from one sale a month to one a week, “but I really need to get to one a day.

That’s where she hopes working with Enactus and the small business development center will get her. And the Shark Tank victory may pay more dividends. This past week Nimmer was contacted by an associate producer of ABC’s “Shark Tank” to discuss the possibility of her appearing on their show.

That, of course, would raise her public speaking fear to a whole new level.

“I’m scared beyond belief, but this isn’t an opportunity/invitation you say no thank you to,” she said.

EIGERlab’s March 2014 Newsletter: Northwest Quarterly’s article, “EIGERlab: A Home-Grown Engine for Job Growth” | TechWorks adds Assembly program

Friday, February 28th, 2014

EIGERlab’s current newsletter includes entrepreneurial stories and events, information on EIGERlab’s TechWorks FastTrack Workforce Training and Center for Product Development, the latest from both Rock Valley College’s Illinois Small Business Development Center and Procurement Technical Assistance Center, open positions and more! Click below to open the PDF.


EIGERlab: A Home-Grown Engine For Job Growth

Friday, February 28th, 2014


In a city where manufacturing is our greatest industry, it’s easy to forget the impact of generating our own jobs and wealth. Step inside Rockford’s EIGERlab, where home-grown entrepreneurialism is the basis for a new economic paradigm

Mark Tingley, owner of Accelerated Machine Design & Engineering, is steadily growing his company, thanks to services he’s obtained through EIGERlab’s business incubator and accelerator programs.

Some manufacturers create and assemble things. Others process foods or chemicals.

But EIGERlab, 605 Fulton Ave. in Rockford, is making something completely different. In a city where 20 percent of all jobs involve manufacturing, EIGERlab has spent the past decade helping to build companies of the future – companies capable of bringing jobs and wealth to the community.

At its core, it’s a nonprofit business incubator and accelerator, an organization that helps new companies to start and helps existing companies to grow. Inside this former engineering office on the Ingersoll campus is a battery of resources to help entrepreneurs realize their dreams. As its sciency name implies, it’s a laboratory where business ideas come alive.

Locally, EIGERlab is a center of innovation, one that has propelled homegrown businesses as far as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and as nearby as the factory floors at our region’s manufacturing powerhouses.

Nationally, it’s actually one of about 1,200 U.S. incubators supporting innovation. In 2011, North American incubators helped about 49,000 startups that supported nearly 200,000 workers, according to the National Business Incubators Association (NBIA), a trade group to which EIGERlab belongs.

In other communities, as in Rockford, incubators are doing incredible things. Chicago’s 1871 incubator and coworking space puts digitally focused entrepreneurs, investors and mentors in the same room.

In Silicon Valley, YCombinator selects a handful of startups for an intensive three-month bootcamp that often results in investor funding. It’s graduated Internet juggernauts such as Dropbox, Reddit and Airbnb.
EIGERlab serves many industries, but it has an inherent knack for high-tech manufacturing and engineering. Hidden away in an old industrial complex owned by Ingersoll, EIGERlab’s accomplishments are often overshadowed by local economic news, yet this just may be Rockford’s best shot at igniting a new paradigm.

“What’s the last big manufacturing company that we attracted to Rockford?” asks Dan Cataldi, EIGERlab’s executive director. “We don’t attract a lot of big companies to Rockford. It’s competitive, and we’re like anybody else. But Woodward Inc., that’s business retention and an expansion of an existing company. We have to keep and grow our own.”

Inside the Lab

Consider EIGERlab as a sort of one-stop shop for business resources, where nearly 250 local businesses received help in 2013.

Along with incubating and accelerating businesses for a fee, EIGERlab is also home to a product development center, covering everything from licensing and patenting to rapid prototyping on a 3-D printer. There’s even a workforce development center that trains unemployed or underemployed workers on entry-level machining skills.

Within the building, independent groups offer additional services, the sorts of relationships that factor into everything else, at little to no cost. There’s the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), a state agency that offers business planning consultation and training, and SCORE, a nonprofit that pairs up retired executives with small businesses in need of a mentor. EIGERlab even has resources for obtaining government contracts and exporting products to foreign countries.

“We have 40 manufacturers that sit on an advisory council and inform us as to what they need,” says Cataldi. “EIGERlab is about identifying what small to mid-size, growth-potential companies need, and how we can connect our services with a need in the community, to get them to grow quicker.”

Companies housed in the lab are provided with furniture, Internet and meeting spaces, on a one-year lease that allows for occupying more or less space, as business needs evolve. About half of businesses that pass through EIGERlab are manufacturers, so there’s also access to an adjacent 20,000-square-foot shop.

Before setting up in the incubator, a company first must endure a business planning process that analyzes 20 factors, from business concept to operations and customer relations. While housed here, the company must pursue its growth strategy.

“The objective isn’t just to rent cubes,” says Cataldi. “It’s to rent cubes with the idea that you’ll grow to two cubes, then three cubes, then four cubes, and then we move you to some other part of the building, where there’s more dedicated space. Phase three would be to go forth and continue to grow a company outside the EIGERlab.”

The signs of business expansion are all around. Upstairs, there’s a Chicago-based IT company that specializes in e-commerce infrastructure. Since re-shoring its operations from Kiev, Ukraine, the company’s Rockford operation has exploded, expanding from three cubes in 2011 to 26 cubes today. Next door, an engineering company has expanded over five years into nearly 1,800 square feet of office space, plus an additional 5,200 square feet of shop space. Nearby, there’s a company working behind closed doors, handling traffic photos for potential I-PASS tollway violators.

“Sometimes, the computer can’t sort it out, so these people have to,” explains Mike Cobert, EIGERlab’s assistant director. “Every time you go through the tollway and you don’t pay, there are up to eight photos taken of you.”

The CNC shop downstairs provides a training ground for unemployed or underemployed workers earning certifications for manufacturing jobs. They’ll learn about the basics of acquiring and holding a job – showing up on time, dressing properly – and learn about advanced manufacturing, before testing their skills using computer-controlled manufacturing machines. Graduates are often hired by local manufacturers.

Nearby are several 3-D printers, which enable rapid prototyping of various products: a beer tap handle designed for Madison, Wis.-based MobCraft Beer; prototype hand tools made for Snap-On; hair dryer attachments. Not every client in need of a prototype comes from Rockford.

“You may be be shocked at how many people are coming in from Chicago,” says Cobert. “We’re currently helping one entrepreneur, drawing the part and prototyping it. He says, ‘Mike, I can’t tell you how thankful I was the day that I found EIGERlab, because for years, I’ve had this idea, wanted to do something with it, but couldn’t.’”

In the adjacent manufacturing shop, EIGERlab companies are producing things, and in some cases performing “skunkworks” research and development. In one corner, a local manufacturer is refining a new production system for a new type of equipment. Here, engineers can test their application away from the office grind. Just a few feet away, a new business owner is sharpening saws for industrial clients. Thanks to an arrangement with Ingersoll, which owns the building and leases space to EIGERlab, these clients aren’t responsible for electrical costs.

“For a startup company, that’s huge – ‘I know my monthly cost is this,’” explains Cobert. “That’s important, because they don’t have to worry about spikes in energy costs.”

Click here for the complete Northwest Quarterly article.