How Wireless Environment secured funding to produce its closet lighting solution

Wired for growth

David Levine and his business partner, Michael Recker, started Wireless Environment to shed light on a real problem. Literally.

Both entrepreneurs had closets with inadequate lighting. Recker’s closet had no wiring, while Levine’s required him to locate and pull a cord in the dark space. They wondered, why couldn’t the light come on automatically when the closet door opened? Together, Recker, an electrical engineer, and Levine, a product development wiz, were the right pair to address the challenge.

“We set out to solve a problem, not start a company together,” Levine says.

However, their conversations led to a business start-up idea in 2006.

Funding a bright idea

Designing the first motion-sensor LED closet lighting solution was the easy part for Levine and Recker. Getting the financing to perfect the technology, broaden the product line and acquire customers – that was the real challenge.

The two initially sought funding from JumpStart, a Northeast Ohio funding source, but they were too early-stage to qualify at that time. Instead, JumpStart led them to The Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE) program through Lorain County Community College (LCCC) Business Growth Services. GLIDE is a regional innovation center, resource hub and business incubator housed on the college’s campus that offers tech support and access to financing through the Innovation Fund. GLIDE was created by a partnership among Lorain County Community College, the Lorain County Commissioners, the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Department of Development.

Innovation Fund financing came with no strings attached and no dilution of the business, allowing the partners to maintain control. That appealed to Levine, who didn’t want to overextend the business.

“Control is so important for an entrepreneur,” Levine says. “If you believe in yourself, control is vital to implement your vision. The Innovation Fund financing did not dilute us and it did not cause any reduction in our ability to make decisions.”

LCCC also provided Wireless Environment with office space at the Richard Desich Business and Entrepreneurship Center on LCCC campus, and daily access to the expertise of the center’s co-directors, Cliff Reynolds and Dennis Cocco.

“They weren’t just big-picture people; they were blocking and tackling,” says Levine, explaining how the two advisers helped him work out real-world business challenges.

Seeing the results

In the end, failure to secure funding from JumpStart was a blessing for the new company, Levine says. LCCC came through with groundbreaking support in terms of seed funding and business guidance, things that were essential to growing the business. In September 2007, Wireless Environment received a $100,000 Innovation Fund award, which gave the young entrepreneurs instant credibility and helped them raise $1.7 million in follow-on financing through JumpStart, Ohio Third Frontier and angel investors.

Today, Levine and Recker have expanded their workforce to 15 employees and hold dozens of patents for wireless indoor and outdoor lighting technology. And as an industry leader in wireless fixtures, Wireless Environment has also greatly expanded its LED lighting product line, which is available through Amazon and at major big-box retailers.

“It’s the brightest lighting you can get at its price point,” Levine says.

It may also be the brightest idea to come from out of a conversation about poorly lit closets.

 

Contact GLIDE at (440) 366-4310 or email innovate@glideit.org to learn more about our services for technology based start-ups.