The EIGERlab in Rockford, Illinois, has been holding a competition called Fast Pitch for 10 years. It is set up a bit like ABC’s Shark Tank, but it actually pre-dates Shark Tank and this year it billed the competition as “Shark Tank without the bite.”
Over the years, Fast Pitch has been the launching pad for companies such as Comply365, now based in Beloit, Wis. Comply365 went through several iterations before taking off as a developer of apps to allow airplane pilots to replace paper-based flight plans with digital plans on tablets. Thinker Ventures is working with companies from the 2014 and 2015 competitions, FishWithMe.net and NonProfitThrive.com, on marketing, branding and business direction.
Like any gathering of entrepreneurs, the EIGERlab competition, which is now affiliated with Northern Illinois University and was held on September 28, featured an eclectic mix of technologies, services and products and a wide disparity in how far along some exhibitors were than others.
Michelle Gast of Cary, Illinois, was the night’s big winner. She pitched her recoup BEAUTISCOOP. It’s a dual-ended beauty spatula designed to scoop every last drop of beauty and personal care products – such as lip gloss, makeup, moisturizer, serum and shampoo – out of their tight-necked containers. She smoothly ran through the origins of the BEAUTISCOOP and its market potential in three minutes with the presentation timed to the last second. Twelve judges awarded her $5,000 for having an idea and product pitch they deemed more promising than finalists pitching an adaptive note-taking app, a tool for remodelers to better aerate walls and a line of toys to teach kids to “do the right thing, even when no one is watching,” among others.
Gast said she began working on the idea in 2013, but really the inspiration dates back much farther.
“Actually, it was October, 2006, when I wrote it down in a notebook,” said Gast. A certified public accountant out of college who later became a financial analyst and product manager, Gast said she’s had “at least 30” ideas that she’s seen brought to market by others so she began keeping a journal of ideas to pursue some day when her sons were older.
The recoup BEAUTISCOOP is available on her own website, livebeautility.com, and has been accepted to be sold on Amazon.com and included in Amazon’s LaunchPad, which markets innovative products from startups, and will be featured in the December edition of Real Simple magazine.
So Gast is well on her way. Yet she still feels very far away.
“I’ve learned a lot, from manufacturing and design to distribution,” Gast said. “The next step and it’s proving to be the hardest one, is getting it on store shelves. Everyone I show it to loves the product. How do I get it in front of more people?”
To get to this point, she worked with the Small Business Development Center in McHenry County, Illinois. It referred her to NIU-EIGERlab. The EIGERlab got her in touch with a Freeport company called Twin Image Design, which is now making the product.
To make connections, she bought a ticket to Las Vegas to attend CosmoProf, a beauty product trade show.
“I wasn’t an exhibitor. I was just there to meet people,” Gast said. “Some of the people scoffed at me, but if you believe in your product you just keep going. You don’t care about the people who say ‘no.’ You’re looking for the yeses.”
She left Las Vegas with one completed deal and two more in the works and is beginning to get the product in some stores. It’s now a matter of following through with all the leads and continuing to look for others.
“It really comes down to tenacity. You have to have a strategy. You have to know what direction you want to go and what you should be spending your time on,” said Gast, who plans to bring another product idea to Fast Pitch in 2017. “Then you have to get organized. You have to set aside time to do certain things. I’m still trying to get that right.”
Gast’s ideas aren’t just a business but a cause. She is donating a portion of profits to organizations working for clean water and against human trafficking.
Will the recoup BEAUTISCOOP be the next big thing? It has the potential. According to MarketResearch.com, the United States has the largest cosmetics market in the world with more than $62 billion expected to be spent this year alone. Globally, more than $120 billion will be spent on skin care and lotions.