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Local entrepreneurs take their ideas to the marketplace

They are pioneers.

They are people who proclaimed, “The old 9 to 5 is not for me!” and boldly struck out on their own.

They are local inventors and they all share a common drive: to see their ideas and dreams come to fruition.

Victor Griffith, Ozzie Chu and James Nesland have all done just that.

Figuring out a better way

Victor Griffith ran a termite and pest control business for 30 years.

Being in hundreds of houses over those years, Griffith noticed that mold was a hard problem to eradicate.

“I actually couldn’t get rid of the mold in the house,” Griffith recalls. “Every time I retested it, it came back. And I thought, ‘What if I created negative air pressure (in the house)?’”

Using tents and tarps that he utilized in his termite business, Griffith began experimenting with ways to suck the air out of the home, carrying with it any mold spores that were disturbed during the clean-up process.

Griffith finally came up with a system that utilizes eight-inch pipes that are inserted through the windows of homes. Devices used on helicopters control dampers on the ends of the tubes allow dirty air to exit and clean air to come back into the home.

“While you’re cleaning on the inside, you’re actually putting a lot of mold spores into the air,” Griffith says. “So this acts like a big old tornado vacuum cleaner and sucks all the mold out of the house.”

The method didn’t work immediately and Griffith had to test the procedure out a few different times on empty homes before he perfected it.

“It took about six months to perfect it and get it running the way it should,” Griffith says.

But in 2002, he invested about $200,000 in equipment and had his FAS-TRAC (Fungal Air Systems-True Removal of Airborne Contaminants) system perfected.

His new business, Breath Easy Mold Remediation Inc., was born.

Griffith says the business earns in excess of $1 million in annual revenues.

“It’s worked out very well,” he says. “We are what you might call a recession-proof business.”

Griffith also has invested in state-of-the-art infrared and fiber-optic equipment that lets him peer inside walls to detect moisture, the breeding ground for mold.

His advice to someone striking out on his or her own?

“Be ready to have a lot of hats and be ready to wear them all and wear them to the point that your employees are proud to work for you and your company,” Griffith says. “Working right with them gives you respect from them. And that respect for you will give you the best employees you can get. That is the key to this business or any other business.”

Why don’t we start something?

Ozzie Chu was enjoying a happy existence in research and development at Tropicana in Bradenton until 2004.

That’s when, after working there for six years, Chu learned that the company was moving its corporate headquarters to Chicago.

Chu, 51, reluctantly moved, but left his heart in Florida. He knew he had to do something to get back home.

“I did work out of Chicago for about a year and realized that wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t want to do that,” Chu recalls. “I had been talking to some of my friends and some business people and out of the conversations came the idea, ‘Why don’t we start something?’”

That something turned out to be the Hurricane Juice Co.

Though he declines to discuss the initial investment or revenues, the company is producing about 400,000 bottles each year of its EQ Thirst Equalizer, made with coconut water, believed to boost the body’s electrolytes.

Locally, the drink can be found at Whole Foods Market and the Granary in Sarasota and at Sweetbay grocery stores.

Chu also is selling the brand in northeast stores and has gained some exposure through product placement on shows like CBS’ “Big Bang Theory.”

Hurricane Juice Co. is going after athletes to help promote and sell the brand.

“We have been working closely with different trainers in the local area,” Chu says. “We have also been working with the training and conditioning coach for the Toronto Blue Jays.”

Chu acknowledges that the current economy has made business more difficult.

And it doesn’t help that the beverage industry offers a plethora of products, he says.

But by focusing on his business model and ensuring that the company is operating as efficiently as it can, Chu believes Hurricane Juice can remain viable and competitive.

“In today’s market, the economy is affecting everybody. It is not easy times,” Chu says. “But you just have to concentrate on your goals and vision and things start to happen. Once we have gotten awareness of the product and benefits of the product — being in the natural category, which consumers today are really looking for — once they start noticing and recognizing that we hope it will take off.”

Chu’s advice to anyone considering launching their own business or developing an invention is to have a good business plan.

“If you have a dream and goal you just follow it. You don’t want to say, ‘I should have done it.’ Just do it,” Chu says. “But before you do it, make sure you have a good plan.”

First, a love of baseball

Thirty-three-year-old James Nesland has loved baseball all of his life.

A quirk of that passion as a child was that he liked to customize baseball gloves by taking pieces of one glove and adding it to another.

“I started doing it for other people, up through college, Nesland says. “Baseball’s always been a part of my life.”

A little more than a year ago, Nesland began thinking about his glove customization and began to view it as a business.

Some friends of the family offered to put a few thousand dollars toward the idea that eventually became his online business, Bat-Attitude.

Nesland also found a formidable ally in Frank Clark, a former Johnson & Johnson executive who volunteered at Manasota SCORE, an affiliate of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Not only did Clark have myriad business experience, but he also shared Nesland’s passion for baseball.

“He played in the service and one year of semi-pro,” Nesland recalls. “He fell in love with it. He loved the idea and the product.”

With Clark’s direction and the small investment from friends and investors, Nesland started Bat-Attitude (www.Bat-Attitude.com).

Nesland sells customized reinforcements that are laced onto the pocket section of the glove where the ball is often caught. The reinforcement section of leather not only adds personality to the glove, but also extends its life, Nesland says.

“When you catch the ball, that’s a lot of stress on those laces,” Nesland says. “And what happens is it stretches the laces out and they snap over time. And if it snaps, you’ve got to borrow a glove from someone in the dugout or try to get a quick fix.”

Nesland also sells complete gloves, baseball hats and is looking to make customized balls for promotional use by teams and businesses.

Nesland has his gloves manufactured overseas, though he declines to say where.

“I stayed there 10 days and made sure they were doing it the way I had it drawn up,” Nesland says. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t have had it made here (United States). I wouldn’t have made anything on it once I had it made and sold it.”

Nesland has yet to turn a profit. All together, he has about $40,000 invested in the company and has sold a few hundred of his gloves.

His day job is working as a ranch hand in Myakka.

But Nesland is optimistic he will be able to turn Bat-Attitude into a company at which he can make a full-time living.

“That’s definitely the plan,” he said.

Thinking of starting a business? Nesland has this to say.

“The first thing I would say is, do everything you can on your own,” he says. “Don’t get so many people involved that it will just create chaos. Do your best to know what you’re dealing with. It can get dicey when money’s involved.”

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