IDEA Competition rewards area's latest entrepreneurs

Times Report
Kelly Van Ert, creator of the Secure and Safe Shower Zone, accepts her check from Mic McCrory with the IDEA Competition.

The IDEA Competition has concluded its 2020-2021 season by naming and awarding one overall winner and four runners-up in the annual competition that aims to support northwest Minnesota entrepreneurs in turning their great ideas into great businesses.

The winner of the competition was Kelly Van Ert of Bemidji, whose concept for the Secure & Safe Shower Zone was awarded a $7,500 cash prize, a $5,000 in-kind award of engineering and technical writing services from LVI, and a $5,000 in-kind award with HSML Law in Minneapolis for patent and trademark legal services.

The Secure & Safe Shower Zone is a shower system consisting of two main components: magnetic gripped shower sleeves that can be placed around and adjusted to fit a variety of commonly used shower items such as, handheld shower heads, bottles of shampoo, conditioners, and body washes. The second element of this shower system includes an adjustable large magnetic board that can be attached anywhere on a shower wall. This allows users to easily place and replace shower items anywhere on their board within convenient reach.

“This year's IDEA winner, Safe & Secure Shower Zone, has the potential to positively impact the lives of the elderly and persons with reduced mobility, to make showering safer and easier, giving them and their family peace of mind,” said Rachel Lundbohm, one of the IDEA Competition judges.

Van Ert is an occupational therapist who has worked professionally with all ages and has seen the need to better, more safely equip showers for those striving to concern energy and live as independently as possible, whether they live in their own homes, in assisted-living or skilled-nursing facilities.

Van Ert said the support she has received through the IDEA Competition and the Northwest Small Business Development Center has been invaluable in providing a timeline while supporting and encouraging her throughout the business-development process.

“They understand the idea and the meaning behind the invention and understand how it will be a useful product,” Van Ert said. “It’s fun to see those people get excited about it, to see that it makes sense. I’ve been really thankful for (the IDEA Competition). It’s been an amazing experience.”

Andy Olson and Mic McCrory

Runners-Up awards

Four other IDEA Competition participants were named runner-ups and were awarded a mix of cash and in-kind awards.

In no particular order, the following runners-up were awarded:

Andy Olson / AMPLE Engineering & Design

    Olson, a resident of St. Hilaire, received a $5,000 in-kind award from IDEA Works for general consulting, including advanced business planning, facility acquisition, and vendor selection.

His concept of an engineering firm offering consultation and testing through contracted work expands on his initial idea for a mobile wood processor. An engineer with 20 years’ experience, Olson developed a prototype for the wood processor that can lift logs, transfer them down a conveyor, and cut and split the logs. The processor can be pulled behind an ATV. It is aimed at those who use wood-burning as primary or secondary heat sources, and greatly reduces the physical strain from lifting logs and splitting wood.

The Northwest Small Business Development Center and the IDEA Competition helped him walk through the steps needed to create a business plan and establish an LLC, Olson said.

“It was helpful – how do you lay out a business plan, how do you write your summary, how do you do three years of financials,” he said. “It was really good for me and it helped me learn. I’d like to see a new adventure come from this idea.”

Ron Turney and Mic McCrory

Ron Turney / Indigenous Origins

Ron Turney received a $2,500 cash award toward the development of Indigenous Origins, a SaaS (Software as a Service) platform for Indigenous artists, Native-owned small businesses, and Tribal-owned businesses that enables them to start an e-commerce store at no cost while joining a marketplace with truly authentic Indigenous arts, goods, and services.

Turney, a traditional Ojibwe artist from the White Earth and Red Lake Nations, saw the need for such a service as the online marketplace has been proliferated with cheap knock-off items and foreign-made items posing as Indigenous art. Cultural appropriation is a real hurdle to artists and culture bearers.

The Indigenous Origins platform would consist of a website and mobile application that would allow members of federally recognized tribes to start a store and upload products or services, like Etsy and Amazon. The platform will include verification systems and integrate e-learning options so artists can upload art classes, courses, and workshops and monetize those as well.

“It came from trying to sell and teach my own art and hearing other artists’ issues. Access to cultural knowledge, workshops, and such are hindered by distance among our tribal communities,” Turney said. “I have been networking and made friends with other artists and we have wanted a platform for ourselves. … They cannot wait for it to (launch). They’re excited, they know we’ve been needing something like this.”

Turney, who has more than 25 years’ experience in web design and digital marketing, said he expects to launch Indigenous Origins within the next month.

“The momentum is here,” he said. “Now we’ve got a platform of our own to build upon and the support from everyone has been 100 percent. Indigenous Origins will help bridge the gap for e-commerce, learning, and networking among our tribal communities.”

Dave Robertson and Bobbie Davis

Bobbie Davis / Lost Lamb Loomery

Bobbie Davis, of Bemidji, was awarded $1,000 in cash and a $2,500 in-kind award from Evolve Creative, for an Awareness Campaign marketing package for her concept of Lost Lamb Loomery, a resource for those beginning to explore the world of fiber arts.

Davis, along with her husband, Dave Robertson, aims to offer easy-to-assemble and high-quality wooden looms and spinning wheel kits while also offering online training curriculum. Together, they want their concept to shepherd newcomers into and through the world of fiber arts.

Davis said the idea first germinated about two years when she was struck by the extraordinary costs to purchase her own loom.

“The prices are just astronomical, even the used ones,” she said, “so we started looking for plans (to build one).”

The plans they could find were not fully developed and the duo quickly realized that there was a hole in the marketplace that they could fill. They are now working to finalize their plans and working with businesses and building contacts to set up demonstrations.

John Repko and Mic McCrory

John Repko / Rvizion

For his concept of Rvizion, a collaborative web search product that empowers users with knowledge to build expertise, Repko was named the 2021 Minnesota Cup semifinalist for Northwest Minnesota.

Minnesota Cup is a public-private partnership that supports Minnesota entrepreneurs through an annual competition that connects them with education, mentorship, and support to launch and accelerate their new ventures. With the semifinalist award, Repko, of Bemidji, will have the option of competing in one of the nine divisions for the chance of more than $400,000 in cash prizes while accelerating his businesses plan.

Unlike traditional search engines, Rvizion sifts through search engines, news sources, medical journals and clinical trials to provide users the best, most applicable information needed in some of life’s greatest challenges. By reading, rating, and summarizing articles, and also providing definitions, Rvizion is able to provide the most applicable information to empower users to build understanding and wisdom.

The idea that became Rvizion germinated in 2015 when Repko rescued an old English setter who was diagnosed with advanced cancer. He was told to take her home until she died.

“That’s no way to live,” he said, “so I Googled it and …. invented a treatment therapy for her and saved her. Rvizion was created to build a discovery process that’s available to everyone.”

Repko, who has 30 years’ experience in information technology, said Rvizion is based on the belief that we are all capable of building the knowledge necessary to confront life’s greatest questions and persevere through life’s greatest challenges.

“If you get bad news from your doctor or you rescue a poor old English setter who needs help, or there’s any of the life questions that you don’t know in advance, go to Rvizion – it will help you build knowledge in the area you need and maybe find solutions you didn’t think were out there,” he said.

About the IDEA Competition

The IDEA Competition was designed for one purpose — to grow the economy of Northwest Minnesota by outfitting the next generation of homegrown innovators for success in the global marketplace. To accomplish its purpose, the program identifies the most promising ideas and entrepreneurs through a competitive process, awards cash and in-kind awards to winners, and provides intensive follow-up assistance.

The 2020-2021 season marked the 12th year of the IDEA Competition. Many past winners have had innovative product ideas but others also have had innovative services or innovative business models. The competition is broader than an invention competition; it is focused on the commercialization of great ideas, turning those ideas into great businesses.