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.
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.
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.
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.