Necessity is the mother of invention. Nick Loomis was severely wounded in a mortar strike in Iraq in 2005.
“I came home, I was in a really bad spot and motorcycling had always been a passion of mine,” Loomis said.
Among other injuries, he has a perforated left eardrum that can cause equilibrium problems if cold wind enters his ear while he’s riding his motorcycle, and trouble with his left eye that makes sunglasses a necessity.
Loomis and his wife, Abrianna, worked together to create a beanie he could wear while riding that has holes for his riding glasses, so there is no gap for wind to get inside the hat and the pressure is taken off his ears.
Soon, the pair found others – riders and non-riders alike – wanted the beanies, too. They formed CM Skullies LLC, which also makes headbands, sunglasses, hoodies and hats.
When the duo presented CM Skullies on Saturday’s episode of Wisconsin entrepreneurship pitch show “Project Pitch It” on WISN-TV Channel 12, it won a $10,000 cash prize.
“We are looking to get a bigger facility so that we can expand production,” Abrianna said.
They currently manufacture CM Skullies in Racine, but are limited to about 150 pieces per month. CM Skullies products are sold at five Wisconsin Harley-Davidson dealerships, and online.
“I could see major manufacturers wanting to license this product,” said Jerry Jendusa, one of the Milwaukee business moguls reviewing pitches on the show.
Peggy Ann, another mogul, said she could see wearing one of the headbands to keep her sunglasses in place while she’s golfing.
Also presenting on Saturday’s show, the first episode of “Project Pitch It” season 3, were Mary Pellettieri, founder of Milwaukee-based Top Note Tonics, and Deb Thompson and Laura Berkner, co-founders of Madison-based Stimmi LLC.
“Have you ever had this experience?” Pellettieri asked the moguls. “You go to a great bar or restaurant, order a great cocktail, and decide when you get home, I want to make that cocktail again. You get home, you realize, ‘I’ve got the right liquor, I’ve got the right glassware, I even have the fancy garnishes. But for mixer, I have this.’”
She opened a bottle of soda, which fizzed onto the floor, and explained why the high-sugar drink is not right for a high-end cocktail.
Top Note Tonics uses fruit juice, bitters and botanical essences to make five kinds of tonics.
“We’ve pleased the most finicky of bartenders in Milwaukee, Madison, Chicago – they’re thrilled with what we’re doing,” Pellettieri said.
The company has gained traction with local retailers, and even at Lambeau Field, she said.
“But to grow from a regional brand to a national brand, we can use some help. The beverage business is not for wimps,” Pellettieri said. “We need about $750,000 in equity investment and we would love to be introduced to some great investors locally.”
“If you receive $750,000 of cash, how would you put that money to work to make your business scale?” Jendusa asked.
Top Note plans to spend the funding on sales and marketing, both by providing free product for new retailers and adding sales and marketing staff.
The moguls gave Top Note the Pitch In Award, which is a mogul-hosted forum with investors and experts in marketing, finance and networking.
“Stimmi means ‘voice’ in German, and we are giving a voice to those who cannot communicate for themselves, especially people with autism or cognitive disabilities,” Berkner said. “Stimmi is helping caregivers understand the ones we love.”
Thompson, whose son has autism, works with 15 caregivers at four different organizations to care for him. She was using a training binder and notebook logs to keep track of everything, until she and Berkner, a medical professional caring for people with disabilities, came up with an online platform instead.
“Stimmi allows a parent to go to the website stimmi.net and create a care center for their child,” Thompson said. “Instead of notebooks, I input all the information into the website, along with instructional videos that show people how to care for my son.”
An in-app messaging center allows caregivers to communicate with each other in real-time about a patient.
“The idea of eliminating miscommunications or distortions or the incredible aggravation of having to say it again and again, we appreciate that,” mogul David Gruber said.
“Some of the best ideas come out of meeting a need, and here you’ve met your own personal need by creating something that can help you and potentially can help thousands and countless of others, so I applaud you on that,” said Debbie Allen, another mogul.
Stimmi received the Stritch Pitch Award, which includes business classes, office space, mentorship and staff support from Cardinal Stritch University.
BizTimes Media is a media partner for "Project Pitch It."