On Thursday, 10 small regional businesses, including four from Louisville, competed in a “Shark Tank”-style competition for the chance to win up to $10,000 in export shipping from UPS.
The competition, held at Gheens Foundation Lodge, involved entrepreneurs stepping in front of six judges to explain their business and why they would benefit from higher exports. While one team of entrepreneurs made their pitch, the others waited in a nearby room, mingling, snacking or fine-tuning their presentations.
UPS hosts the X-PORT Challenge to showcase its international shipping business and to help connect local businesses with the world.
“The UPS X-PORT Challenge is an example of our commitment to innovation, global trade and entrepreneurism,” Bill Seward, UPS U.S. International President, told IL in an emailed statement. “Less than 1 percent of America’s 30 million companies export — a percentage that is significantly lower than all developed countries. And of U.S. companies that do export, 58 percent export to only one country. This competition presents an opportunity for growth-oriented businesses to expand internationally.”
Louisville and Kentucky officials have encouraged local businesses to think more about exports. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Lexington Mayor Jim Gray in 2011 started the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement, or BEAM, a strategic partnership to foster economic development in 22 counties near the two cities. In 2012, the mayors announced that they planned to increase exports from the area by 50 percent within five years, in part because research had shown that exporting businesses “grow faster and can afford to pay their workers better than non-exporting firms.”
Bardstown-based entrepreneur Brian Tooley stood in front of the judges early Thursday afternoon and told them about his rapidly expanding auto parts business, how he got into it and why he thinks his company would benefit from help with exports.
Tooley is a serial entrepreneur and now runs Brian Tooley Racing, an online business that sells high-performance auto parts such as fuel injectors, cylinder heads and superchargers.
He started the venture in 2012 in his basement, moved into a 3,500-square-foot facility in January 2014, and has outgrown that facility as well. Tooley told the judges that he is moving into a new 15,000-square-foot facility next month.
His revenue has doubled in each of the first four years in business, and he expects e-commerce growth in the auto parts industry to continue to grow at a rapid pace. BRT focuses on expert help and fast delivery, offering same-day shipping.
Judges asked Tooley questions about his customer base, geographic coverage and his growth strategy. They also provided advice, such as encouraging him to protect his intellectual property with patents. One of the judges, who had worked for General Motors, said he was familiar with Tooley’s company and said he admired his expertise.
As another team of entrepreneurs gave their presentation, Todd Deutsch, president of Louisville-based Psyche Comfort Products, practiced his pitch on an outdoor patio.
Psyche makes pillows that allow people with sleep apnea to sleep on their sides. Deutsch, who was diagnosed with sleep apnea seven years ago, said that the continuous positive airway pressure system that keeps his airway open at night required him to sleep on his back, which was uncomfortable. When he turned to his side, the mask would come off, or the tubes got tangled.
To allow him to sleep on his side, he developed a butterfly shaped pillow with straps for the CPAP system’s tubes. The pillow weighs about four pounds, so is ideal for shipping. It costs about $100.
Deutsch said that people who use the product really like it.
“The problem has been in getting the word out,” he said.
Given the aging population, rising obesity rates and other health problems that contribute to sleep apnea, Deutsch said he expects the market to grow. Industry experts, he said, predict that the market will reach nearly $6 billion next year.
“It’s a global problem,” he said.
Other businesses that participated included Dayton, Ohio-based Hearth Products Controls Co.; Cincinnati-based solar cooking stove maker GoSun; and Louisville-based Bionic, which sells gloves that use patented technology to provide better grip for sports and recreational activities.
UPS told IL Friday via email that the top prize and $10,000 in export shipping from UPS went to Cincinnati-based outerwear company Oros. Centerville, Ohio-based Nutritional Medicinals took second place and $2,500. Third place and $1,000 went to Louisville-based Wicked Sheets, which makes moisture-wicking products, including bed sheets and pillow cases. Winners were chosen based on their international appeal and execution strategy.