I went through grade school wearing sweatpants. Not cool, but since I struggle with zippers and buttons they were pretty much my only option. Somewhere in middle school we came up with the idea of adding elastic to a regular pair of blue jeans. For the first time I dressed like everybody else and still kept my independence.
I have always known I wanted to run my own business and I ran a small vending machine company while still in high school. Business was my favorite thing to talk about and my dad and I talked over hundreds of ideas during this time. Somewhere along the way we realized that although products were available to assist in overcoming physical limitations they were hard to find. Even with the explosion of the internet, if you don’t know exactly what you are looking for, you aren’t likely to stumble across the very products that might be the most beneficial. I distinctly remember an incident in which I was talking to another individual with limited arm control and the topic of using electric scissors as an aide to opening difficult packages came up. When he excitedly responded that this was a great idea and he was going to order some right away I knew I was on the right track for a new business. After months of discussing it, my dad and I thought of the name (unbelievably available) and in 2009 we bought Unlimiters.com as a domain name. I owned it, I knew I wanted to do something with it, but I was busy with school and it just sat there.
In 2011, I accomplished something that had been a dream of mine for a long time when I was accepted into the number one rated entrepreneurship program in the nation, the University of Houston’s Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship. With the backing of the Program Director, Ken Jones; the Director of Mentoring, Dave Cook; and my assigned mentor, Kaye Patterson, I began to resuscitate and reimagine the idea of “UNlimiters” (they liked it better than my alternative of a custard/milkshake stand which I started with).
With Kaye’s connections she helped me put together a “Board of Directors” consisting of Dick Lew, Jackie Townsend, Christine Stevens, and herself. The willingness of this extremely talented group of people to sit down on their own time and share their knowledge and experience in putting together a business was unbelievable. With help designing our logo, putting together presentations and slideshows and most importantly providing a sounding board for ideas and activities with people who understood the market, Unlimiters started to sound like a real company.
The idea of Unlimiters was so well received by my classmates, I was approached by one of the class’s business plan teams about joining them and using the Unlimiters idea to compete in a series of national business plan competitions. With major help from team members Randy Hannemann, Louis McEneny, Tattiana Reznick, and Adam Trojanowski, a formal business plan was prepared to use in the competitions. The excitement of having a number of people brainstorming together, focused on what Unlimiters could be and how to get it there was exhilarating. The work done and ideas generated by the whole team, along with others involved with the Wolff Center was incredible and added tremendously to the vision for Unlimiters and its potential.
While all of this was going on my mentor, Kaye, set up a meeting with the University’s Director of Industrial Design, Eunsook Kwon PhD, and proposed the idea of adding a “UNlimiters” project to her design curriculum. Much to our amazement she not only added Unlimiters to her curriculum, but had her whole class use me as a subject for a user oriented design project. All of the sudden, I had a large group of students following me around and filming my every move so they could come up with designs for goods to help me with my daily activities. They even filmed me in the shower!
For the spring semester of 2012, the five members of the Unlimiters business plan team competed in four national competitions. Incredibly, we took first place at the Texas Christian University (article 1) (article 2) (video), University of Nebraska (article), tied for second at Chapman University (article), and placed in the top ten at San Diego State University, winning a grand total of $44,000 in the process. (video)
The members of the Industrial Design program put together designs for thirteen different “UNlimiters” products ranging from bottle openers, to a custom shower system to ways to easily deal with electrical outlets. All thirteen of the projects were extremely inventive and at the end of the term the class put on a demonstration of the products for me as well as all my friends and family.
It was quite a semester and, in fact, was one of the best times of my life. Unfortunately, when it was all over I still had four classes to go and Unlimiters once again moved to the back burner while I finished my last semester and graduated in December of 2012. Since school has ended, all I have done is work on making Unlimiters a reality and I am as excited as ever about the possibilities for the company.
As you can see, the first chapters of the company’s history involved a lot of really excellent people. In order for the company to be successful, the next chapters have to be written by our customers, friends and associates who find value in our site and its offerings: both social and commercial. We want Unlimiters to be a product designed not just by us, but by everybody involved. If the next couple of years are near anywhere as exciting as the last couple, success is certain. We look forward to working with you and we will keep you posted on our progress. Please visit our website, Facebook page, and Twitter account and subscribe to our blogs. We need your input!