AmiraLin Innovations – Columbia
Born of necessity
What do you get when you cross an engineer with an MBA and a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) professional? An HVAC gauge hanger.
To be more specific, a magnetic strap that clings to a HVAC unit, holding the temperature, pressure and other gauges at high level for the HVAC technician. The trademarked HVAC Strap is the invention of 15-year HVAC professional and current city of Columbia building inspector Dan Vande Voorde, brought to market with the help of the MO SBTDC, MBA and former Missouri Tigers tight end Clint Matthews and nuclear engineering PhD candidate Raymond Troy. The firm is called AmiraLin Innovations, and there are more products in the works.
Going about his trade, Vande Voorde kept asking himself why there was never a good place to hang his gauges. Technicians often have to throw their costly gauges on the ground where they are hard to read and likely to get damaged.
“The idea behind the hanger was basically born out of necessity,” says Vande Voorde. “I kept thinking about it, kept tinkering. There was nothing else like it on the market.”
Vande Voorde kept his ear to the ground. He had heard of the annual REDI Entrepreneurial Summit, held on the campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia, and its Idea Bounce competition, where entrepreneurs and inventors pitch business ideas to a panel of business pros.
He didn’t win the competition, but he did capture the imagination of summit attendees Matthews and Troy who were enrolled in an MU angel investing class. And not just any angel investing class, but a student-run angel investment program in which undergraduate and graduate students invest in promising firms.
A magnetic HVAC gauge hanger may be practical but it’s not sexy, and the class didn’t bite. However, Matthews and Troy, who have started nearly 10 companies, were sold on the device.
“Clint and I realized the value of the product from the start,” says Troy. “The HVAC Strap solves a real problem. A lot of inventions we see are looking for a problem to fix. This is just the opposite — an invention that solves a real problem.”
“I know HVAC, but I don’t know how to pitch ideas,” Vande Voorde admits. He also needed help in funding. “One of the first things I had to realize was that I had to give up a portion of the business for it to succeed, working with guys half my age.”
Vande Voorde had previously met Paul Bateson, MO SBTDC counselor, when Vande Voorde inspected the basement in Bateson’s home. Vande Voorde realized that Bateson could help.
Bateson and the three partners hammered out the details required to turn a great idea into a great product, such as the legal form of the new company; enacting a good marketing strategy; getting exposure via trade shows and other means; and whether to file a patent. Finding a manufacturer in American that could put the magnets and fabric together was also a challenge. Ultimately the partners found the right source in Arkansas, which helped ensure good communication and quality control.
Matthews and Troy secured a private investor and attended the largest HVAC trade show in America in late January. The product was a hit.
“Dealing with Clint and Ray has been an experience,” says Vande Voorde. “They are not easily discouraged and believe you should seize the moment. These guys are the next generation of business leaders.”
The HVAC Strap is already in stores and as of early March, the firm has sold more than 250 gauge hangers. Vande Voorde recently walked into a store and saw his hanger on display: “I went in to pick up some parts, and there it was! It was really a heartwarming moment to see our product for sale.” The partners are now weighing national and international distribution options.
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