ROCKFORD – By going small, Paul Niederman has developed some very big plans.
Niederman is the founder of Prescient Audio, a startup home-technology company launched with the idea of making a smaller yet more powerful subwoofer.
“I had this idea in college and thought about it again when I got a new car,” said Neiderman, who graduated from East High School in 1984 and then tried a variety of careers before getting a bachelor’s degree from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 2000.
“I bought the premium audio system with the car, but there was no subwoofer, so the system was really weak,” Niederman said. “I thought I could put a subwoofer under the passenger seat, but I couldn’t find one that fit. That gave me the idea to make one myself that was small enough.”
A subwoofer is a loudspeaker dedicated to reproduction of low-pitched audio frequencies known as bass.
He worked on the project for three years, with assistance from Rockford’s EIGERlab, and came up with the ThinDriver, which allows speakers to be thinner in profile, lighter in weight, more powerful and run cooler. He’s applied for patents in 14 countries to protect the invention. The speakers can be made for anything from smartphones to laptops.
Niederman touted the invention at several investor competitions and then showed it off in 2013 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas where it was named one of the top innovations at the trade show that draws about 150,000 people annually.
The hard work has drawn several local investors to Niederman’s idea, and the first of the products using the ThinDriver technology went into production in early February at a plant at 4904 Colt Road.
The ThinDriver 12-inch subwoofer – list price $999.95 – for the home audio system is available now. Later this year, Prescient will begin offering a ThinDriver loudspeaker for the car and for professional sound systems, a smartphone case with ThinDriver speakers, a dual subwoofer in a single cabinet and an in-wall subwoofer cabinet.
All of the products have to meet one clear standard.
“They have to have the wife-acceptance factor,” Niederman said. “You have to be able to hide it so it doesn’t mess with the look of a room.”
The market for his product is immense. Niederman said major electronics firms ranging from Polk Audio ($23.9 million in annual sales) and Harman International ($4.3 billion in sales) all the way up to Samsung Electronics ($188.4 billion in annual sales) have expressed interest in the technology.
“The biggest hurdle has been sourcing,” Niederman said. “I want to build it here and use as much Rockford and U.S. components as possible. The problem has been most electronics manufacturing has moved out of this country, so I had to start from scratch.”
Niederman’s ultimate goal is to have 200 employees within five years and take the company public. The Rock River Valley’s largest locally based public company is Foresight Financial, which owns a string of local banks.
“We want to have a full line of products, with different sizes and for different users, such as special subwoofers for guitar amps,” Niederman said. “We want Prescient Audio to become an electronics solutions company.”
Mark Podemski of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council said that it’s entrepreneurs like Niederman that keep a manufacturing community growing. Major local employers such as Woodward Inc. of Loves Park, Woods Equipment Co. of Oregon and Taylor Co. of Rockton all grew from one idea.
“Time will tell if Paul’s idea will be one of those that changes an industry,” Podemski said. “It has a chance. It has a market, and it’s disruptive technology. It’s exciting to see a company like this at the ground floor.”