SEMA News—February 2020


By Douglas McColloch

2019 SEMA Launch Pad Selects a Winner

Launch Pad
The 2019 SEMA YEN Launch Pad was held before a full house at the Westgate Resort & Casino Theater in Las Vegas during the 2019 SEMA Show.

SEMA Launch Pad Presented by YEN started in 2013 as a partnership between SEMA Education and the Young Executives Network (YEN). The goal was to promote entrepreneurship in the automotive aftermarket by giving young innovators and builders a chance to showcase their products before a panel of industry experts at the SEMA Show. Out of hundreds of aspirants, a short-list of 10 is selected to appear at the SEMA Show. From that group, five finalists are chosen to pitch their products in person at a dedicated event in Las Vegas.

Where Education Meets Inspiration

“Originally, Launch Pad was created as a SEMA council program aimed at supporting the SEMA Board of Directors’ Next Generation strategic initiative—a strategy to increase the number of young individuals engaged and involved in the association and industry,” said Nathan Ridnouer, SEMA vice president, councils and membership. “Launch Pad has been tremendous in putting young entrepreneurs and their businesses on the big stage at the industry’s most important trade show. Nowhere else is there an opportunity for this type of promotion of their ingenuity, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.”

Launch Pad kicks off SEMA Education’s Student Program at the annual SEMA Show. According to Zane Clark, SEMA senior director of education, more than 3,000 high-school and post-secondary students attend the program, and more than 1,300 attend Launch Pad itself.

“Launch Pad inspires students to dream and to know that their dreams are attainable,” Clark said. “More than that, the young-entrepreneurs’ competition provides a practical road map on what it takes to launch a business and the work that is required to get there.”

Launch Pad
The 2019 Launch Pad was emceed by ArcLight Fabrication master builder and “Shifting Gears” TV personality Aaron Kaufman.

Challenges to Meet, Obstacles to Overcome

For the finalists and semifinalists, rewards can range from a SEMA Show kiosk to a turnkey display space, complimentary ads in SEMA News, discounts on SEMA Data Co-op membership, SEMA Show passes and even $10,000 in cash to the Launch Pad winner. Along the way, aspirants need to show superior presentation and marketing skills if they wish to advance to the final rounds.

“The entire process required us to hone in on exactly what our product was and was not,” said 2019 Launch Pad finalist Reid Lunde of Kaizenspeed. “Overall, it helped us to firm up our product offering—everything from how we planned to manufacture it to how we would bring it to market. It was a fast-forward button for us.”

Along the way, competitors not only learn marketing and brand-building skills but also forge close professional and personal ties with their fellow entrants.

Launch Pad
The panel of judges for the 2019 Launch Pad were (from left) Dan Kahn of Kahn Media and SEMA Board member; Vaughn Gittin Jr., president of RTR Vehicles and world champion drifter; Melanie White, president of Hellwig Products and a SEMA Board member; Sean P. Holman, content director for Motor Trend Group and co-host of “The Truck Show Podcast with Lightning & Holman”; and Wade Kawasaki, CEO of Legendary Companies and immediate past SEMA Chairman of the Board.
Launch Pad
Reid Lunde (center) holds his winner’s check for $10,000 as the Launch Pad grand-prize winner for 2019.
Launch PadThe Launch Pad curriculum also includes a YEN social mixer prior to the main event. At the mixer, contestants can exchange ideas with colleagues and learn valuable lessons from past competitors.

“My fellow competitors were my true competitors for only those few minutes on stage,” returning finalist Christopher Owens of Last Drop Wrench noted. “Before and after, we grew to be each other’s support system, cheering section and mentors. Those friendships formed with fellow competitors and SEMA staff associated with the program are so valuable that I wouldn’t trade any of them for the world.”

Competitors also learn how to push their own abilities to achieve greater results.

“Being in competition with others who have the same passion for their business and product pushes you beyond your comfort level and forces you to be a better version of yourself,” said 2019 finalist TJ Hammerle of Trac-Top.

Rules of the Game

For aspiring applicants, eligibility rules are simple and straightforward. Applicants do not need to be SEMA members but must be under the age of 40 at the time of the closing of the SEMA Show at which they’ll be presenting. The actual presenter must be the owner, president, CEO or majority shareholder of his or her company. The product being presented must be functional, whether as a concept, a prototype or a production model currently for sale.

Applications are accepted from February through April, with voting via social media occurring from July through September. The top 10 finishers are notified in mid-September, and all convene at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas, where the top five are invited to make a 5-min. presentation before a panel of industry leaders who pick a grand-prize winner based on criteria such as presentation skills, marketing plans, product viability and market appeal.

Judges and Competitors

The 2019 Launch Pad took place November 4, 2019, at the Westgate Resort & Hotel Theater in Las Vegas. In attendance were hundreds of industry professionals and observers. Judging this year’s competition were Vaughn Gittin Jr., president of RTR Vehicles and world champion drifter; Sean Holman, content director of Motor Trend Group and co-creator and co-host of “The Truck Show” podcast; Dan Kahn, president and CEO of Kahn Media Inc. and SEMA Board member; Wade Kawasaki, CEO of Legendary Companies and immediate past SEMA Chairman of the Board; and Melanie White, president of Hellwig Products and also a current SEMA Board member. Emceeing the event was master builder and star of Discovery Channel’s “Shifting Gears” Aaron Kaufman of ArcLight Fabrication.

Joining the event at Launch Pad 2019 were the following semifinalists and their products:

Eric Amato 
Eric Amato

Eric Amato, President of Radial Dynamics LLC
Product: Vortex Steering Reservoir

Amato’s Vortex Steering Reservoir features a patent-pending design that actively de-aerates steering fluid and maximizes effective system capacity to keep even the highest-flowing steering pumps working optimally under the most demanding conditions.

Alexander Reid
Alexander Reid

Alexander Reid, GloTrim Products Lead, Seville Auto Trim LLC
Product: Fiber-Optic Light Guide

Reid’s GloTrim is a flexible-glass fiber optic welting system designed to provide premium soft-trim lighting for vintage and classic cars. GloTrim kits are designed to be integrated into any 12V system and used on virtually any surface requiring soft-trim lighting.

John Schurman
John Schurman

John Schurman, Founder of Voxel Evolution LLV (dba Luxe Auto Concepts)
Product: Luxe LightWrap

Schurman’s Luxe LightWrap is a translucent premium cast vinyl designed specifically for wrapping a vehicle’s lights and trim. Designed with the professional in mind, it features air release for bubble-free installation. It can also be printed and laminated.

Justin Urban
Justin Urban

Justin Urban, Owner of Urban Custom Fabrication
Product: DIY Custom Flatbeds

Urban’s Urban Custom Flatbeds offers an aluminum flatbed with interlocking pieces that bolt together at home or in a professional garage. The bed can be shipped directly to the customer’s door, and fabrication shops can save on inventory costs because the bed fits most platforms.

The top five finalists and their product offerings were:

TJ Hammerle
TJ Hammerle

TJ Hammerle, CEO of Trac-Top LLC
Product: Trac-Top/Jeep Wrangler Top

Hammerle’s Trac-Top is a direct replacement for the freedom panels of the Jeep Wrangler, using the factory hardware. The Trac-Top is a coil-sprung retractable canvas that is built directly into the housing so that users have instant shade when they want it and protection from the elements whenever needed.

Riley Koidahl
Riley Koidahl

Riley Koidahl, Founder/CEO of The Paddock
Product: The Paddock

Koidahl came to Launch Pad with The Paddock, an online shopping and comparison tool that leverages technology to give car enthusiasts the best shopping experience possible. Users can virtually test fit wheels, browse classifieds and connect with installers for a seamless wheel and tire experience.

Reid Lunde
Reid Lunde

Reid Lunde, Owner and Founder of Kaizenspeed LLC
Product: Kaizen Relay

Lunde’s innovation for Launch Pad 2019 was the Kaizen Relay, a weatherproof solid-state relay that directly replaces standard relays. Its patent-pending design allows multiple relays to interconnect, making it easy to add on without complicated wiring. Programmable CAN-bus modules and wireless modules can be attached, making the Kaizen Relay a smart PDM.

Christopher Owens
Christopher Owens

Christopher Owens, CEO and Founder of Last Drop Wrench
Product: The Last Drop Wrench

A top 10 honoree in 2018, Owens returned in 2019 with The Last Drop Wrench, a handy device that allows the user to drain oil from an oil filter before it has been removed, eliminating spills and burns while also decreasing the time it takes to complete an oil change by up to 25%.

Wesley Poole Wesley Poole

Wesley Poole, President of Forged Authority
Product: Aftermarket Truck Bed Systems

Poole’s company, Forged Authority, manufactures the next generation of Truck Bed Systems, which include toolboxes, chairs, tire chocks, tie-down hooks, kayak racks, fishing-rod holders and more. Accessories mount onto the company’s new Modular Frame Rail (MFR) with a single pin, within seconds. Once installed, the MFR can accommodate a number of attachments.

Final and Aftermath

After all the presentations and votes were tallied, Reid Lunde of Kaizenspeed took home the grand prize for his Kaizen Relay.

“Winning Launch Pad validates my ideas and will increase exposure for the product and company,” Lunde said. “I started in this industry in 2002, and it’s always been my goal to think differently—performance done right—and grow to a size that can influence the direction of the automotive aftermarket while not getting too big and losing touch with the people who matter the most.”

“Launch Pad was a great honor and a great experience,” added finalist Wesley Poole of Forged Authority. “It was most beneficial for our company by allowing us to gauge our accessories in the market, get feedback, dive deeper into the detail of where we can improve, and how to take advantage of the opportunities.”

For his winning effort, Lunde received $10,000 to be used toward his business, exhibit space at the 2020 SEMA Show, advertising in SEMA News, access to SEMA business tools and much more.

Entries for Launch Pad 2020 are set to open in March. Visit

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