SEMA Launch Pad 2021
Part 2: The Winners
By Douglas McColloch
Launch Pad’s five finalists prepare to make their final presentation at the 2021 SEMA Show. Left to right: Tom Sawarynski, Off-Road Research; Kevin Robinson, TRAC LLC; Dustin Woolf, Woolf Pack Racing; Brendan McGrath, Dyme Performance Systems LLC; Jonathan Hurley, Toolbox Widget.
SEMA Launch Pad 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 innovators and builders under age 40 a chance to showcase their products before a panel of judges at the SEMA Show. For 2021, the age limit was removed to make it easier for more participants to qualify, and the amount of cash prizes and other considerations were increased, with more participants than ever featured in SEMA’s publications and social-media channels.
The ninth annual SEMA Launch Pad competition included a record-high number of applications. From those, 15 semifinalists were chosen by a panel of industry experts. After each competitor completed a one-minute “lightning round” presentation, 10 were chosen to advance to the next round. We reviewed the semifinals last month, and for this issue, we highlight the top five finalists who were chosen to pitch their business ideas at the 2021 SEMA Show and compete for a top prize worth nearly $100,000. Videos of all the preliminary rounds are now available for viewing at SEMA’s YouTube page, and the finals will be broadcast at a date and time to be determined.
Launch Pad’s quartet of judges pauses for a discussion. Pictured from left: Myles Kovacs, TIS Wheels; Alex Parker, Redline Detection; Chip Foose, Chip Foose Design; and Jared Hare, Addictive Desert Designs.
The panel of judges for Launch Pad 2021 comprised a quartet of industry leaders with decades of experience. They included legendary automotive designer and builder Chip Foose; Jared Hare, president and founder of Addictive Desert Designs; Myles Kovacs, co-founder of DUB Publishing and president of TIS Wheels; and Alex Parker, executive vice president and CMO of Redline Detection.
Available to business owners, executives and entrepreneurs who are launching new automotive products, Launch Pad supports innovators and encourages future industry growth. This year’s finalists pitched products to improve vehicle safety, convenience and the overall driving experience.
Competitors and Products
The rules for Launch Pad are basic: The competition is open only to legal residents of the United States and the District of Columbia aged 18 years or older (residents of Alabama and Nebraska must be 19 or older), and they must have valid email addresses. Applicants need not be SEMA members, but the presenter must be the business’ owner, its leading executive (i.e., president, CEO, CFO, COO) or vice president. The business must offer a product or service that is a functioning prototype, a functioning concept, or a production model currently for sale.
The five finalists who competed in SEMA Launch Pad 2021 were:
Jonathan Hurley, owner, Toolbox Widget
Product: ToolBox Widget is a series of modular tool organizers that allow a mechanic to connect as many tool organizers together as needed, making them customizable to the mechanic.
Quote: “Being a combat veteran and an entrepreneur go hand in hand. A good way to explain it is that my end goal is to have Toolbox Widget in the majority of toolboxes worldwide. That’s my mission, and I’ve got that military mindset to do whatever it takes to accomplish that mission.”
Brendan McGrath, CEO, Dyme Performance Systems Inc.
Product: Rattlesnake Toolkit is a multi-use toolkit that can measure the exact length and angle of a custom hose assembly down to the millimeter, significantly reducing time and cost.
Quote: “The judges gave us a lot of good information, and they validated my ideas. Now they’re going to come back to us with more difficult questions, but I’m equipped to answer anything about my business, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
Dustin Woolf, owner, Woolf Pack Racing
Product: Natural Nitrous is a standalone refrigerated system for the air induction of an engine. It lowers the temperature of the air charge and dehumidifies the moisture, which increases horsepower because there are dense oxygen atoms in the cylinder. It also lowers emissions because of the complete burn of the fuel.
Quote: “I got into HVAC—refrigeration in particular—and I thought if I had a way to get refrigeration in the air induction, that would be coolest thing ever. Once I put the system on a car, it was phenomenal. And then, after testing on the dyno—the numbers are there.”
Kevin Robinson, president, TRAC LLC
Product: The TRAC (Tire Rotation Assistance Cart) is a tool designed to simply lift and remove a wheel from a vehicle during service. The tool is designed to reduce workplace injuries while increasing productivity.
Quote: “I drew up this product four and a half years ago on a napkin and was just looking at it in the [SEMA Central] hallway, so I knew this was going to work out well.”
Tom Sawarynski, owner, Off-Road Research
Product: Smart Cap Module allows any aftermarket shock absorber with a bridge or remote-mounted reservoir to broadcast damper position to an external module or modules.
Quote: “What I like about this industry is that everybody has the mentality of doing cool things for cool people. That’s the kind of mentality that I gravitate toward, and I think that winning SEMA Launch Pad would force us to move farther and faster.”
Presentations and Judging
The finals were held in two stages. The first stage, which took place at SEMA Central on Thursday, November 4, gave the five finalists one more opportunity to sway the judgers. From there, three winners would be announced: a third-place finisher, who would receive $5,000, and the naming of the top two finalists, who would make final presentations later that day at the annual SEMA Industry Awards Banquet for the chance to win up to $100,000 in cash and prizes.
Comedian Adam Ferrara acted as the event’s presenter and emcee.
“Going into the finals, these guys have to polish their pitches,” Kovacs said of the final five. “They have to bring numbers. We haven’t gotten into the business side yet, so for the finals, these guys have to make us understand their business model and the opportunities and pitfalls they anticipate.”
“When you get to this level, having a great personality and a great story is awesome,” Jared Hare added, “but what it boils down to is that you need to have a SEMA-level product showcase.”
Dustin Woolf (right) reacts to being named the winner of Launch Pad 2021 as runner-up Tom Sawarynski (left) and emcee Adam Ferrara (second right) look on.
The five finalists gathered at SEMA Central in front of hundreds of spectators and media members. Once again, they were given a 1-min. pitch followed by an exhaustive Q&A from the judges, who queried them on their business and marketing strategies, manufacturing and distribution plans, and other topics. After a 90-min. marathon, Brendan McGrath was awarded third place, while Dustin Woolf and Tom Sawarynski were named the top two finishers.
Later in the day, in front of 2,500 industry professionals assembled at the SEMA Industry Awards Banquet, Dustin Woolf of Woolf Pack Racing was chosen the 2021 Launch Pad champion for his Natural Nitrous induction system. For his efforts, Woolf collected cash and prizes valued at $100,000.
During SEMA Show week, all 15 semifinalists and finalists had the opportunity to showcase their products at their own dedicated booths at the Launch Pad Corral.
Summing up the experience, fellow finalist Jonathan Hurley said, “Launch Pad is an amazing opportunity because it gives the new businesses, the startups and the entrepreneurs a chance to show their businesses and be in the spotlight. In any other industry, you’re kind of drowned out by the big companies. This gives the small businessman a chance to stand out.”
Entries for Launch Pad 2022 are set to open in March. For more information about the competition, visit the SEMA Launch Pad website.