Sometimes, Old Dogs Not Only Learn New Tricks, But Create Them as Well

By Chad Stamper, Director of Technology Commercialization,
Illinois Small Business Development Center

Partners Rich Brummett and Doug Rasmussen, both in their 60s and with vastly different areas of expertise,ZG3 Systems, LLC founded ZG3 Systems, LLC. Their new trick? They created an apparatus that allows a single auto glass technician to safely remove and install even the heaviest automotive glass on vehicles of any height, including automobiles, buses, RVs and semi-tractors. With variations for in-shop and mobile applications, this appliance stands to change the installation of automobile glass.

On a day in 2013, Doug was making sales calls when he happened to speak with Rich. At the end of that call, Rich invited Doug to see the invention he was working on for installing auto glass and that was the beginnings of ZG3 Systems. With Rich’s 35 years in auto glass repair and replacement and Doug’s 35 years in rehabilitation and occupational medicine, merging their seemingly disparate experiences exposed a market opportunity in an industry that Doug describes as “the wild west in terms of innovation.”

Reimbursement for auto glass replacement is relatively fixed, and the market is becoming increasingly competitive, mandating resourceful business operations. Competitive sustainability for auto glass businesses increasingly focuses on the speed and quality of doing replacements and averting work-related injury.  Using the ZG3 appliance, a single technician can now set windshields with equal speed and accuracy as the current “gold standard” two-person installation processes. Additionally, the physical demands associated with auto glass installation result in much higher-than-average rates of neck, shoulder and lower back injuries. The soon-to-be-introduced ZG3 device will virtually eliminate the negative ergonomic factors contributing to these injuries.

In the fall of 2013, the two founders reached out to the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Bradley University’s Turner Center for Entrepreneurship and met with Chad Stamper, Director of Technology Commercialization, to discuss technology commercialization strategies.  With Stamper’s assistance, the company developed strategies to validate their market assumptions, developed an intellectual property strategy, networked with experts, and received assessment tools and resources necessary to launch their business successfully.  “The SBDC at the Turner Center helped us reach key milestones in a time frame that we would not have reached without their help,” Rasmussen said.

“The Turner Center has really helped us refine and understand our cash flow and profit and loss projections, which has helped us identify optimum pricing and prepared us for raising capital” Rasmussen said. Through a unique preparation tool offered by the Turner Center, the team was given an opportunity to do a dry-run investor pitch to a group of investors.  This experience provided the team with valuable advice on all aspects of their business model and helped them to understand how prepared they are to enter the market.  Rasmussen added, “The investor pitch opportunity really opened our eyes to what it will take to be ready for equity investment, and we are looking forward to pursuing this further with assistance from the Turner Center.”

Assisted by the Turner Center and key third party resources, they have moved from a formative concept firstZG3 Systems mobile system modeled on Rich’s van and then Doug’s basement, to a functional product ready for market in a little more than a year. ZG3 Systems now has relationships with a national manufacturer in the aluminum extrusion market, an auto installer network of more than 5,000 installers and a host of auto insurers across the country. Rasmussen commented, “These key relationships will be critical to the company’s success.”

ZG3 Systems looks to begin their next phase, production and sales, in late 2014 and are eager to take on that challenge.  Going forward they see opportunity to innovate and expand their product offering, as well as create jobs and business opportunities in Illinois.