2016 SEMA Launch Pad Competition
Engaging More Than Ever Before
“Launch Pad was successful largely because of the engagement of the SEMA community,” said SEMA Director of Networks Bryan Harrison.
The concept of SEMA’s Launch Pad competition, powered by the Young Executives Network (YEN), has always been to identify and engage the next generation of industry leaders. Modeled after television competitions that offer young businesses a chance to win backing for their proposals, the SEMA program provides up-and-coming entrepreneurs with guidance and a platform for their ventures. The fourth annual competition in 2016 followed suit, albeit with a number of format adjustments that were intended to extend benefits to more of the finalists.
“Regardless of whether entrants win or not, the experience as a whole is designed to help individuals review what they are already doing to bring products to market and ultimately to build better businesses,” explained SEMA Director of Networks Bryan Harrison. “One of the things we are finding is that many millennial businesspeople believe that their product will sell itself. We are teaching them that you more often have to start by selling the problem to the market, then sell your product as the solution.”
In addition to helping bring new ideas to the marketplace, the competition seeks to engage individuals who will make up the next generation of SEMA leaders. It’s a lofty ambition but one that has been proven over the past three years:
Jonathan Mill of Keyway Innovations, 2013 Launch Pad winner, is now a YEN select committee member and was awarded SEMA’s Gen-III Innovator of the Year award at the 2016 SEMA Show awards banquet. The 2014 Launch Pad champion was Ian Lehn of BOOSTane, also a YEN select committee member who now chairs the Launch Pad task force and participates in many of the association’s international business development trips. Robert Vogt of Voyomotive was the 2015 winner and has been diligently working toward a 2017 release of a new anti-hacking car app, Lockdown. Vogt made himself available as a resource to the 2016 class of Launch Pad contestants.
With all that in mind, along with feedback from previous participants, a task force of volunteers reviewed the program from start to finish and adjusted the structure accordingly. The end result was an eight-step competition that hit all of the major steps in starting a business. The initial application helped participants objectively evaluate their businesses by asking questions they may not have considered. New for 2016, the application was open to all leading executives in the automotive industry under age 40—participants were not required to work for a SEMA-member company. As a result, the number of applications received in 2016 more than doubled that of previous years.
The semi-finalist spots were increased from 10 to 14, selected by a team of SEMA-member volunteers. Each semi-finalist received a prize package that included a complimentary one-year SEMA membership. Those 14 individuals then traveled to Vegas for the SEMA Show Exhibitor Summit, where they attended sessions to train them for trade-show success and created three-minute videos about their products—an experience that not only resulted in promotional tools but also prepared them for live presentations of their concepts.
The semi-finalists next proceeded to a Facebook voting competition that narrowed the video entries down to 10. Throughout the voting period, the contestants were encouraged to invest in various promotional strategies and analyze the results weekly. The marketing efforts made a splash, and a total of 10,500 unique votes were cast during the seven-week period. At the close of voting, a variety of product types made the top 10, including hard parts, accessories and mobile electronics. The following 10 individuals then began to prepare for the SEMA Show.
Aaron Aldrich (left) presented the Any Level Lift to judges on stage at the 2016 Launch Pad competition.
Aaron Aldrich is the owner and inventor of the Any Level Lift, established in 2016. The patented product is an adjustable suspension system that offers 16 in. of ride-height adjustment without impact to ride quality, steering alignment or axle positioning.
Richard Baverstock is the founder and CEO of Mogol Inc., developer of the Glide app. Glide is a location-aware cruise control that uses GPS and route information to make small changes in acceleration, improving fuel economy and electric vehicle range as well as reducing vehicle maintenance. It is designed to install quickly under the dashboard.
Matt Corish, an executive with manufacturing experience, founded V12LS.com with his engineer brother Shane. The website offers something different for a builder’s next project with an LS12 engine. The 519ci V12 street-engine package produces 717 hp on pump gas with a mild camshaft. With larger cam and head options available, these engines are designed to take custom builds to the next level.
John Paul Gusewelle is co-founder and COO of Metal Conditioner Squared LLC. His product is MC², a friction modifier designed for use with petroleum-based lubricants in motorized vehicles and equipment of all shapes and sizes. Once added, MC² applies a nano coating to the surface of the lubricated metal. That results in ASTM-proven reductions in friction, temperature, wear and increased efficiency.
Amanda Holbert is the president and co-owner of Elegant Iron, a firm that works in prototypes and design, metal fabrication, sandblasting and powdercoating. The PlasmaGlide product she brought to the contest is a patented universal fixture table for a hand plasma cutter, allowing the operator to gain CNC-quality cuts on various shapes and sizes of metal materials safely, easily and accurately.
Bryce Hudson is a professional motocross athlete from Murrieta, California. He has won three X Games medals, been seen on nationwide TV commercials and was featured on ABC’s “Shark Tank” in 2015. Hudson is the owner of Grip Clean, a company that makes an all-natural, industrial-strength hand soap infused with the cleaning power of dirt.
Wesley Jurica is the co-owner of Gigabit Games, where he does game design, coding and concept design. CrawlrCam is the company’s latest product—a universal video system for off-road enthusiasts that combines HD action cams and an intuitive app to display a live video grid of the user’s rig, making it easy to self-spot when tackling tough obstacles.
The Launch Pad Roundtable allowed finalists from all of the previous Launch Pad competitions to meet one-on-one with mentors representing the retail, manufacturing, manufacturers’ representative, media and warehouse-distributor fields.
Kevin Patrick is the president of Exomotive. The Exomotive Exocet is an easy-to-build, lightweight, component-vehicle kit based on the popular Mazda Miata drivetrain. The exoskeletal, open-air design of the Exocet chassis is offered in three distinct versions for maximum driving fun on the street, track or dirt. Now in its fifth year, Exomotive has sold more than 200 Exocet Sport, Exocet Race and Exocet Off-Road component-vehicle kits.
Using her expertise in supply chain and logistics, Sarah Powell, COO of Turnberry Innovations, oversees Corbox’s production and distribution. Corbox equips truck owners with a universal-fit truck box for organization in any fullsize truck, with or without a tonneau cover, providing lockable drawers and security through concealability and removability so users can fully enjoy their lifestyles using any of three unique models.
Irina Slavina joined Hudway LLC as a co-founder in 2014, when the two original founders transferred operations from Russia and established the company’s headquarters in Los Angeles. At Launch Pad she presented Hudway Glass, a universal vehicle accessory that turns a smartphone into a head-up display for any car. The user places the product on the vehicle’s dashboard, launches any HUD-mode app, and then sees navigation information right on the windshield.
Each of these businesspeople had earned a spot in the live competition, held each year at the SEMA Show, where a panel of seasoned judges provided feedback based on their years of experience in the industry. In addition to doubling the number of spots in the live competition, each of the 10 participants this year received a complimentary kiosk booth at the SEMA Show in a dedicated “Launch Pad Corral” area.
For seven of the finalists, it was a first-time experience exhibiting at the SEMA Show. Throughout the week, they received feedback from the previous three Launch Pad champions while also gaining experience in manning a booth, following up on leads and practicing their pitches.
The culmination of the process was the live Launch Pad event, held on Wednesday of the Show. SEMA professionals evaluated each of the finalists based on business clarity, product/market analysis and presentation. The judging group included Ron Coleman, ownership partner, president and CEO of Comp Performance Group; Jessi Combs, builder and TV personality; Jim Cozzie, managing partner of Brenton Productions Inc.; Brian Rowland, head of digital and e-commerce at Transamerican Auto Parts; and Dave Ziozios, CEO of Motovicity Distribution. The event drew nearly 275 audience members.
The Any Level Lift allows users to adjust ride height up to 12 in. without impact to ride quality, steering alignment or axle positioning.
When asked by Launch Pad Host Clarence Barnes what she was looking for in a product, Combs replied, “For me it’s always the functionality of it and the demand from the masses, because while you might have a product that I could use personally, that doesn’t necessarily mean that our entire industry needs it.”
Ultimately, the judges selected Aldrich as the winner, and he walked away with the grand-prize package for his Any Level Lift. Reflecting on the journey, Aldrich called it a “no risk, no reward” scenario.
The Any Level Lift concept was born a few years ago when Aldrich purchased a suspension system he saw on TV. It wasn’t long, however, before Aldrich realized that it didn’t give him the flexibility he desired.
“I wanted something that I could drive at any level, from a normal truck up to a 12-in. lift with mud tires,” he said. “That’s what taught me the things that I needed to design the solution and get the functionality that I was looking for.”
After designing the product and building a preliminary prototype truck, Aldrich took a work leave of absence as a mechanical engineer for a Department of Energy facility in upstate New York to focus on preparing the product for market. He began promoting his idea, joined SEMA, and knew that his next step had to be exhibiting at the SEMA Show. It was during this time that he read about Launch Pad in SEMA eNews.
“The exposure is just incredible,” Aldrich reflected on the competition. During the Facebook voting competition, his Instagram following increased from about 200 followers to 10,000. By the time the SEMA Show was over, he had gained another 10,000. He also now has well over 8,500 Facebook likes.
For 2016, Aldrich purchased a South Hall exhibit space in addition to his Launch Pad kiosk. Leading up to the SEMA Show, he completed a redesign on his product and built a ’17 F-350 for his booth. On Tuesday of the Show, the Any Level Lift won Best New Engineered Product at the New Products Breakfast. This award, along with his Launch Pad win, contributed to steady traffic through his booth.
|2016 Top 10 Finalists|
|To learn more about these budding businesses, visit www.sema.org/launch-pad/entries.|
“We were slammed,” he said. “At any given time, I had five to seven people manning the booth and helping to talk to people, and it was nonstop. We didn’t even eat lunch a lot of the days just because we were so busy talking to people.”
Aldrich said that, aside from winning the competition, a highlight of the experience was participating in a roundtable session following the event, where finalists from all years were invited to meet with mentors in a “speed-dating” format.
“It was a great opportunity to sit down with folks from various sectors of the industry and get some insights into bringing a product like this to market or contacts with other folks that I should talk to and follow up,” he said. “I made some really good connections there. Things are starting to move forward with discussions with those folks, and it’s been a tremendous help to me.”
Matthew Boice, senior vice president and general manager for the performance automotive group of TEN: The Enthusiast Network, was one of the mentors at the event.
“The roundtable was an invigorating hour amidst a busy week to pause and guide next-gen automotive aftermarket entrepreneurs and remind us all what passion looks like,” he said. “You can’t help but admire the courage and hope these young women and men see in our industry. It is our responsibility and duty to invest in these folks not just today but in years to come.”
As Aldrich looks forward to the coming year of business development, his next task is prepping the lift for distribution.
“I’ve got to get my act together and get the product out there,” he said. “It’s amazing—the win, the competition. It’s kind of a validation of what we’re doing and the idea, but now there’s a huge burden on me to make sure I can grow this business and get the product out there in the hands of the people who want it.”
In the coming months, the Launch Pad prize package—which includes media coverage, advertising opportunities, SEMA Garage services, a SEMA Data Co-op discount, manufacturers’ rep consultation and a complimentary booth for the 2017 SEMA Show—will help Aldrich to achieve his goals and solidify his status as Launch Pad graduate and industry up-and-comer.
The 2017 SEMA Launch Pad application period will open in early March. For additional details, visit www.sema.org/launch-pad.