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Elite Innovations Ribbon Cutting with Mayor Bill Saffo

Elite Innovations Opens 2nd Location 10 Months after Grand Opening
Ribbon Cutting Ceremony with Mayor Bill Saffo 9/3/2015

EI logo

Elite Innovations will host a ribbon cutting with Mayor Bill Saffo on September 3rd at 11:00am at the Chandler’s Wharf to celebrate their 2nd office space. Open to the media and public.

Please RSVP to: elizabeth@eliteinnovationsllc.com 

Headed up by local entrepreneur and champion for Wilmington small businesses, Elite Innovations, LLC. (EI) opened a second location in July in the Chandler’s Warf in downtown Wilmington, NC. El is a veteran-owned company that specializes in design, prototyping and engineering services. Just 9 months after Wilmington local and CEO Andrew Williams opened El, the company expands its business into a second office space in the historic riverfront downtown district. This second office space houses the growing staff including a Lead Designer, Sales Manager, Operations Manager along with a number of interns. The space also houses space to showcase EI’s completed products. “We have many new clients with various needs. We hope the new office space will allow us to take on more projects that do not necessarily need to utilize our MakerSpace prototyping services,” says Andrew Williams.

The company will maintain its flagship MakerSpace on 18th Street for the growing demand of their product development services as well as 3D printing and prototyping. In addition to expanding into a second office, the company continues to make its mark on the local entrepreneurial community through strategic partnerships with like-minded groups and businesses such as the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at UNCW, Cucalorus Film Festival, UNC Chapel Hill, Wired Wizards, TekMountain and many more.
I see our new space creating businesses, creating jobs and impacting the regional economy,” said Williams. “I think MakerSpaces are the new industrial revolution.” EI hopes to increase its impact by growing the company more in the next year by creating new businesses that will in turn, hire more Wilmington locals. CEO Williams is proud to have 4 full-time UNCW graduates, 2 contracted UNCW graduates and 1 CFCC graduate on his staff and hopes to hire more in the future as Elite Innovations grows.

The MakerSpace on 18th Street and the new office in Chandler’s Wharf are open for scheduled tours. Elite Innovations is also taking on new clients. To schedule a meeting, or for more information about the Ribbon Cutting, please contact Director of Operations, Elizabeth Wilson, Elizabeth@eliteinnovationsllc.com

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Startup Innovation Through Community Participation

Co-written by: Christine Williams

There is no doubt we live in a great city. Wilmington has been praised in many media outlets, getting kudos for its location, great food, University system and sense of community. Wilmington is just one of the great examples of how vital the surrounding community is to the success of local businesses, and vice versa, a mutual support system of sorts. For a locally owned company, a great relationship with the community can ultimately be a determining factor for success. This mutually beneficial relationship between a local company and the surrounding community is personified in education, outreach and community engagement. Here at Elite Innovations we think that is the difference between a good and a great company.

One of our biggest priorities here at Elite Innovations is to foster successful relationships in the community within Wilmington, starting with students.
Students are the future creative and innovators of our community and responsible for its acceleration and future success. A child’s mind is a great thing, ready to absorb information, ideas and come up with truly wondrous ideas.

This past summer we hosted many kids’ camps at Elite Innovation’s MakerSpace. One of the student and staff favorites was an “innovation lab,” challenging students to essentially “build a better mousetrap” car. Among the students was a group of 10-12 year olds from UNCW’s Engineering Camp, led by Kathy Ibbotson.

UNCW Engineering Camp Elite Innovations Makerspace

Our staff was blown away at the enthusiasm and creativity of the young engineering enthusiasts. The students, who were from all over NC, were able to use their skills to collaborate with one another and create functioning cars that were both impressive and entertaining. This collaboration and creativity can be seen in our community every single day.

One of the staples of the Wilmington creative arts scene is the Cucalorus Film Festival, now in its 21st year of presentation. Elite Innovations aims to strengthen ties within the creative community by teaming up with Cucalorus this year in a new and exciting branch of the festival called Cucalorus Connect.

Cucalorus Connect UNCW CIE

Presented by the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UNCW, a strong and enthusiastic supporter of Elite Innovations, Cucalorus Connect’s inaugural event will be a conference that hosts the heavy hitters of the start-up community and those that are driving new business. Connect highlights “[the] artists of the 21st century,” Brawley has said. This concept includes start up owners, CEOs, programmers, technology creators, incubators and many other inventive job creators.

Makerspace Quad Copter Demo with Boy ScoutsBy positioning ourselves alongside of forward-thinkers like start-ups at UNCW’s CIE and the staff who run Cucalorus, we are aiming to drive new and unique ways of merging creative arts and business into the community.

A company can only be a strong as the community surrounding it. The community in which a company exists acts as its extended family, a mutual support system. The community holds a wealth of knowledge in different sectors and a great relationship with the community can ultimately be a determining factor for success for locally owned companies.

Strength comes in numbers and those numbers add up to collaboration within a community that works and grows together. The culture of a start-up is different than that of a franchise or company branch that may be opened. A start-up is, in its very nature, a labor of love, a passionate endeavor and full of enthusiasm. It takes a community with members of the same qualities to solidify the impact of these companies. We view the Wilmington community like one big company, everyone with their unique abilities and strengths, but all working together toward one movement. The consistent positive enforcement that we all give to each other breathes purpose into all of our missions in building an exciting business community and in turn, a thriving economy.

Here at Elite Innovations, we are proud to sponsor and be part of many great things happening in the community. Stay tuned to find out how we are drumming up some new exciting things in Wilmington and beyond.

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Small business Ideas, big business opportunities

Creating value by problem solving
Zap! Lightning has struck and you have just had your next big idea! An epiphany of sorts, or as Smee would say in the movie ‘Hook,’ “an apostrophe.” Congratulations! You have just identified a problem and found a possible solution. Better yet, you may have found a solution other people are willing to pay for. This idea may have come about when you were frustrated with something, or witnessed someone having trouble and thought of a way to relieve them of their struggle (also known as a PAIN POINT). Immediately, thoughts start running through your brain of different ways to build it and how much money you could make if the world bought your idea. You start thinking of friends and relatives that may be able to help you. As these thoughts continue to progress and sketches begin to emerge, you realize, this could get expensive. How much will it cost? Do I have the money to pay for it? Could I borrow money? Maybe I’ll take out a second mortgage? Should I get a loan? WOAHHHHH! Slow down.

 

There are some major considerations before thoughts of financing or production should ever be a concern. So take a deep breath and enjoy the new idea before you stress yourself into an early grave. Just keep reading and I will show you ways to analyze your idea to see if it may in fact be a business opportunity. Knowing the difference will save you time, money, and hair before investing into an idea that could lead to a financial dead end. I will show you some key elements that help determine whether you should pursue your idea as a business or let it go. We call this an Opportunity Feasibility Analysis. Now, let’s dive deeper into the difference between IDEAS and OPPORTUNITIES. Before considering financing your life away under the allure of potential riches, let’s ask a few level-headed questions first:

  • Do other people have this problem?
  • Is this a common problem?
  • Do people know they have this problem?
  • Do you have to educate people of the problem?
  • Is your solution the best solution for the problem?
  • Is the problem (PAIN) big enough for someone to pay money for a solution?

Seeing a pattern here? It all comes down to the problem for others and not just the inventors when turning an idea into a product for the marketplace. It can be very difficult to be objective about a subjective problem. It is important to understand the difference, and acknowledge that people are not frustrated by the same things in the same ways. Nor are people motivated in the same ways to make a purchase. So, as much as you may love your new idea, others may not agree with you. That is okay. That does not mean your idea does not have wings to fly. It very well could. That is why I am writing this blog today. It is to show you some ways to identify if your idea potentially has these wings to be a business opportunity instead of just a good idea. They are two very different things!

What’s the difference between ideas and opportunities?

To start, let’s first identify the difference between the words IDEA and OPPORTUNITY. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, an IDEA can be defined as:

  • a thought, plan, or suggestion about what to do
  • an opinion or belief
  • something that you imagine or picture in your mind

Notice that each of these definitions have very subjective language. “An opinion or belief” is obviously a biased view. “Something that you imagine or picture in your mind.” Again, this is an internal thought. Looking at these definitions and knowing what an idea is, you can see that it is a very personal, internalized concept. If businesses only sold products the way the inventors wanted, then more than likely they would not do well offering what the customer’s want or need.

Now, let’s look at the definition of an OPPORTUNITY:

  • a favorable juncture of circumstances
  • a good chance for advancement or progress

If you notice, the definition of an opportunity is very different. An opportunity considers more than itself, but considers outside factors and conditions as well. “A favorable Juncture of circumstances” considers other variables that make something opportune. “A good chance for advancement or progress” shows the consideration of odds based on a situation.Business Opportunity

Now that we have identified the differences, let’s get back to your “million dollar” idea. YOU have found a solution YOU like, to a problem YOU have. That’s YOUR IDEA. As you think more about this idea, you feel it may be possible that others have the same problem and would buy your solution. That would make the idea an OPPORTUNITY in the marketplace. However, just because you FEEL that way (subjective), does not necessarily mean others do as well. Ideas happen all the time, while opportunities are much harder to come by. Opportunities, when talking about products or services, can lead to potentially staggering revenues and possibly leaving your day job behind. Business opportunities can make a positive difference in people’s lives, they can change the world, and they can create jobs and boost economies.

How to identify an opportunity

So, how do you know if your idea is a business opportunity? Well, you would perform what we spoke of earlier – an Opportunity Feasibility Analysis. To properly distinguish whether or not an idea is truly an opportunity, there are four qualities that need to be met; Attractive, Durable, Creates Value, and Timely. Let’s look at these a little closer:

  1. Attractiveness: First and foremost, your idea needs to be attractive to your target customers who will buy your idea. You first you need to identify who your target customers are for this idea to work. The idea must also be attractive in the industry in which it is going to compete. When I say “attractive” I do not mean just aesthetics and a cool look and feel. I am also referring to the idea itself. Does it create excitement? Does it have an attractive price point? Will the quality and ease of use meet or exceed the user’s expectations? Is it unique? Does it have attractive features and benefits? Basically, what about your idea would make people want to buy it?
  2. Durable: Durability of an idea from a business standpoint means that it can last as a business. A PRODUCT and a BUSINESS are two very different things. Businesses create products, but a whole business built around one product that has little scalability is pretty much a dead end. A scalable product can penetrate multiple markets and sometimes industries with many ways to grow. A perfect example is the invention of the microfiber textile. Some may see this as just a rag for cleaning – thus just a cleaning product. But it can also be cut into the shapes for clothing, embroidered with corporate branding, and BOOM! Now that same rag is sold in the clothing departments with minimal change to the textile’s manufacturing and production processes. If you ever watch Shark Tank, the panelists are notorious for calling people out for having a cool product, but not a scalable business behind it. If the product is not scalable, thus having no way to expand into new markets with new product lines, or have multiple branding opportunities, they often recommend to the inventors to enjoy the ride while it lasts, sell as much as possible, and then get out. The Sharks rarely invest in those product ideas because they are often not business ideas that can grow and last. If they do invest, it is because they know they have the means to expand the product’s potential that the inventor did not think of. Some other traits of durability include replicability. Is it easy to replicate for the competition? Can they easily mimic your product and steal your market share tomorrow putting you out of business? Can your product be patented to protect against such a thing (that’s a whole book in itself)? Also, is the idea purchased as a commodity, sensitive to economic conditions, or is it a necessity unaffected by the state of the economy and disposable income (inelastic demand)?
  3. Creates Value: This is obviously one of the most important factors to generate sales. Your idea must create value in order for people to purchase it, thus generating revenue for your business to be sustainable. A big consideration here is the cost of the idea in relation to the value it creates for the customer. If it costs more than the value of the pain you are solving, then people will not want to buy it, aka willingness to pay. Recently, consumers have been facing this issue with high-end smart watches. They have a $700 phone in their pocket, so do they really want to spend another $200-$400 to read a text on their wrist? Is the time they save from having to pull their phone out of their pocket really worth $400? The watches do much more than that, but the mass market does not see things the same way as the innovators did. This is common in the early adoption stages, where products are looked at through a very simplified lens by the mass consumer. However, now that the prices have come down, more people are adopting this technology now that the price is beginning to match the perceived value. So, again, does your product create perceivable value that is affordable? Do some research and talk to people in your target markets. It’s amazing how much you can learn if you just ask the right people.
  4. Timely: Timely can get a little tricky as this is really an area of economics, demographics, psychographics, and various other externalities. Basically, this quality comes down to the question, “Is this the right time for my idea?” When analyzing this, it is always best to look at various trends. Major trends to consider are economic trends, social trends, technological trends, and industry trends. All trends can be looked up on google, but I will do a simple breakdown.
    1. Using trends for feasability analysisEconomic trends will be factors such as disposable income, unemployment rates, interest rates, spending, and other metrics that define how a country or region is doing financially. Obviously, it is hard to sell a premium commodity product to the mass market if the unemployment rates are high and people have little discretionary income. They will be more prone to buy the things they NEED and not the things they WANT.
    2. Social trends have to deal with things that are trending socially and culturally. This could be lifestyle trends such as a higher demand in organic products and a decrease in demand of fast food and processed foods. It could be clothing trends, exercise trends, yoga and smoothies, etc. There are TONS of trends, but often we observe them subconsciously and they become more apparent as we think about them in relation to our ideas.
    3. Technological trends are pertaining to both what technology consumers are buying, and what technological capabilities we have in society. For instance, James Cameron waited ten years to make Avatar because the technology wasn’t where it needed to be yet for the vision he had of his idea. A decade later when cinema technology was where it needed to be, Avatar was made, and became the #1 grossing movie of all time! Now that’s knowing the difference between an idea and an opportunity! 3D printers are another example of this. The technology for 3D printing has existed over 30 years now. However, it was not made affordable to the public until really the past 5 years when they were able to be less than $2000. The mass market and DIY communities did not have $10,000 – $1.5 million to spend on 3D printers. The technology improved, became more affordable and now the timing is right. Even Dremel makes a 3D printer now.
    4. Industry trends are very important to not only consider, but research heavily. To survive in an industry, you must know where the industry has been and where it is going to be. In business, people often, if not, overuse the corporate cliché Wayne Gretzky approach. For those of you unfamiliar, I’ll tell it, because it is good advice. For those who heard it 100 times I’m sorry. When Gretzky was asked in an interview how he always outperformed other hockey athletes even though there were many other players that physically tested better, Gretzky stated, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” He would be where the opportunity was. You can look at industry trends and see what other major companies in the industry are talking about and where they are going to be. You don’t want to create a product in a dying industry, nor do you want to make a product that has some of the same mistakes the industry has made in the past. If you are the first in your industry, try to find out if other companies have thought of it but cancelled the project. Find out why if you can. Sometimes you may be lucky enough to have a new product that they have not thought of yet. It’s rare, but it does happen, regardless of what some skeptics say. Research is absolutely critical.

feasability analysis

Research, Research, Research

In order to assess these qualities, much research has to be done. Don’t worry, it can be a fun process. Especially when I provide you with some great free resources to get you started. I would recommend using www.SBA.gov. More specifically you can check out the Small Business Administration’s marketing guide to help you get started with your market research. Some additional sources are:

I hope this has helped you get a grasp on how to identify if your next “million dollar” idea has the potential to be a full-fledged opportunity worthy of capitalizing upon. At Elite Innovations we help people every day on their path to turn ideas into opportunities, and those opportunities into real-life products. Helping our clients along this path at the right pace is a critical part of the process to help ensure their success (and ours for that matter). And remember, sometimes an idea on its own does not meet all the qualities of an opportunity, but with a few adjustments, the idea can have wings to fly and become a business. So go, young entrepreneur, and create your own opportunities. Entrepreneurship is not merely a replacement for your day job, but rather a way of life. It’s the difference between a pipe dream, and crossing off every last thing on your bucket list. I’m not saying it will be easy, but I can promise that it won’t be boring. And if you ever need a helping hand along the way, you know where to find us. Thanks for reading, and good luck!

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The Elite Family

Jonathan Dineen Lead DesignerAndrew, you are our Father! (Darth Vader voice)

Being an employee of a small business is like being in a family. You have your head of household, the good kids, a rebel child or two, and a few who just come and go for dinner. We’re no different at Elite Innovations. We have our founding father, Andrew, who has brought his dream of Wilmington’s own product development facility to real life. And then there are the children (employees) who live in the house, (office) running around helping out our Dad, and from time to time nagging him beyond belief. [“Where’s Andrew?” Video] But hey, what’s any good household without a little chaos? Let’s call these crazy children Liz, Eddie, Jay, and Jonathan. We do as many chores as we can to help out our father, but occasionally we break a window throwing a ball around inside. Wisely, Jay and I have learned to throw a Koosh around instead, so we don’t get in any more trouble.

Koosh

But let us not forget our extended family who is constantly stopping by for dinner. Let’s call these wacky members Jason, Drew, Emily, and Joey. The thing about being in a family is that you must sacrifice for one another, help each other along the way, and above all else, stand together. As with any family, disputes will arise, arguments will happen, but thankfully we have cornhole boards to settle any dispute. [“You Might Work for a Start-up if…” Video]

The Start in Start-Up

After developing and turning a profit from his first product, TacLace, Andrew set out to start a maker space. A maker space was not a new concept when he built it, but one had never before been built in Wilmington. Andrew originally wanted to build the facility in Raleigh, but with the incipient entrepreneurial boom he noticed in Wilmington, along with a strong local business school, and “a desire to give back to the community he grew up in,” Andrew made the decision to move from Raleigh to Wilmington. And thank goodness he made that decision, because otherwise none of us would be where we are today.

The Family

Eddie was introduced to Andrew back in June of 2014. Eddie had recently purchased a 3D printer for prototyping his product, Petrics Inc, and “was looking into starting a small maker space in the CIE” (UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship) to benefit all the entrepreneurs there that were trying to start product based businesses. The CIE is where Eddie met Andrew and found out that Andrew had just signed a lease for a 6,000 square foot facility downtown to build just what Eddie had envisioned. “The timing was right for me to join his team and help build the product development resource the Wilmington community needed.” Eddie started on contract, and has now taken over the operations of the maker space as well as business development functions at Elite Innovations.

Jay was then introduced to Eddie through the CIE as well. Eddie brought Jay to the maker space and had him meet Andrew. This was all before Elite Innovations had officially opened its doors. Jay was currently working on a product line of his own, Fuego Lighters, and needed to begin the prototyping process. He earned second place in a pitch competition presented by tekMountain with the help of his first prototype that he built at Elite Innovations. For this, Jay was awarded three free months as a maker at Elite Innovations. Jay spent as much time as he could picking Andrew’s brain on manufacturing processes, prototyping, and any other product development procedures Andrew would explain to him. “I told Andrew that one day that I was going to work for him whether he liked it or not.” Jay said. This persistence paid off, as Jay proved his sales acumen as a commissioned sales rep for TacLace. As sales increased over the next few months, Jay earned himself a full time position through TacLace as the sales director, which has since led him to his current role as Elite Innovations’ sales and marketing director.

I myself first saw Andrew on the local news when a story broke about the maker space and I said to myself, “I need to meet that guy.” Time went by and I had forgotten about that story. I was currently half way through my final college internship when we had a need to quickly 3D print something locally. Since I was the only one who had any experience working with a 3D printer, my internship signed me up for the maker space, and I was able to use the printer and the space. This is where I formally met Andrew. Upon completion of my internship, my college requirements were finally fulfilled, and Andrew offered me contract work that I heartily accepted. One project grew into two, then four, and now all of the sudden after successfully designing a handful of projects, that our customers were thrilled with, I have found myself employed as the lead designer here at Elite Innovations.

Liz was living in California in August of 2014, managing film festivals, when she got a call from an old friend. Andrew informed her all about his new business, and that he had decided to open the doors in Wilmington, NC (Liz’s favorite city from her days as a double major at UNCW). Later that year, Liz’s husband was informed by the Marine Corps that his job would be taking him back to North Carolina at a nearby base to Wilmington. Liz immediately called Andrew, and explained in excruciating detail every single way she could both make and save Andrew money. When reviewing her resume, which after her interview was mostly a formality, Andrew said to her, “You went to the Burgundy School of Business and that reminds me of Ron Burgundy!” A few witty one-liners later, Liz became a part of the Elite family. So in part, Liz has Will Ferrell to thank for getting her job. She is now the Director of Operations at Elite Innovations.

We all have come to make Elite Innovations our home. Though we often poke fun at the way we each ended up working here, every one of us had to work extremely hard to put ourselves in the opportune positions that landed us here. We all owe it to Andrew for having faith in us individually, bringing us together as a team, and making us a family.

Meet the Elite Innovations Team

There is an Eye in Team

Famous poet and writer Maya Angelou said, “in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” Our individual backgrounds are all astonishingly diverse given the fact we are a ‘small start-up’. However, this gives us a substantial advantage over our competition. Our family includes a Mechanical Engineer, an Industrial Designer, a Sales and Marketing specialist, a Program Manager and Department Coordinator for film festivals, a Business Development Guru, a pair of Programmers, a Database Administrator, and a Videographer. These diversified backgrounds are the roots that have planted Elite Innovations in such a strong position in the product development industry. Not only do our family members wear different hats, we also see through very different lenses. I mean this in the sense that we all view problems very differently, but thanks to our aforementioned resilience, we all come to thorough conclusions. On the rare occasions we all agree on something, it’s always interesting to look back and see how different the roads that led to one ultimate conclusion were. This, though it may sound time consuming, is absolutely vital to the product development process here at Elite. In the world of product design, almost everything begins with what we call a “pain point.” Though we may all see the same pain point, the source of the perceived pain is almost always varied throughout the family. Two minds are better than one. But at Elite, we have at least ten pairs of eyes and five creative minds look at every single product that enters our doors, and this paves the best possible path to a successful product. We all get together to ideate and discuss our paths at what we call ‘family dinners’ where we all gather around a table and feast on the problem at hand. After emptying our plates of ideas, comes the sweet taste of dessert. Once we have brainstormed sufficiently, we get to do the fun part. Implementation. Putting our plan into action, and turning local inventor’s ideas in fully functioning products ready for the store shelves.

A Family that Plays Together Stays Together

Positech CEO Brian Maschler was quoted saying, “When I look at my wife and three kids, I don’t just see a family—I see a tiered personnel structure composed of four valued team members who share common goals.” If a family can be represented as a business, then the opposite can be true as well. And if a family that plays together, stays together, then the tighter a business is, the more likely it is to not only survive, but to thrive. In order for a small business to be successful and grow, it is paramount that you surround yourself with valuable, hardworking individuals who care more about the greater good of the company, than they do of their own general interests. This does not mean they need to be purely selfless. It means they need to understand that as the business grows, so will their careers, and they must be willing to make those sacrifices.

A TIGHT Knit Group

Literally. There is a very important term in small business, and the term is ‘small’. As money is a factor in everything, we at Elite don’t have our own individual offices with glass walls overlooking a lush forest on the 100th floor of some famous office building. We have to start out at the bottom, and start small. There is truth in modesty as we have learned. Despite just recently moving our offices into a second location, our family members still work within 20 feet of each other with no walls or barriers between us. And even though this stirs the pot sometimes, we realize that it is beneficial that we work so closely together. It sparks the collaboration which fuels our success that ultimately benefits our clients and our city.Downtown Wilmington NC