ENTREPRENEURS: The next big idea may be small
Dreams come in all sizes. The dreams for an expansive equestrian center south of Brainerd fell victim to a drastically changed economy during the Great Recession. The weather vanes still sport horses above the buildings. The pastures, with lean-t...
Dreams come in all sizes.
The dreams for an expansive equestrian center south of Brainerd fell victim to a drastically changed economy during the Great Recession. The weather vanes still sport horses above the buildings. The pastures, with lean-to shelters and fences but no horses, nod to the unfulfilled dream of the equestrian center's former owner. But inside, things are changing. While the dreams for a state-of-the-art center for horse lovers dissolved, another dream rose in its place with the vision of Bob and Nita Gross.
Last week, the couple hosted an open house to announce the transformation of another segment of the equestrian center-namely the former riding arena. Not that long ago, the arena was still sporting a soft dirt floor. It was easy to imagine horse and rider navigating the space intent on mastering their skills.
Now the former arena is repurposed into manufacturing space, spurred on by a new invention-now in a prototype-created in-house on a 3-D printer.
Bob and Nita Gross' company, MaxBotix, is a high-volume manufacturer of ultrasonic sensors. The sensors measure distance between objects and the uses for that knowledge cover a vast array of industries and services. How many spaces are open in a parking garage? How much room is left in a water tank? When is a person present so a kiosk can activate appropriately and save energy? The applications seem endless.
As do the ideas for new avenues for Bob Gross, an inventor, entrepreneur and tireless problem-solver who attacks a new idea with singular focus. One of the new ideas formed the impetus for the creation of Bullettote.
Three years ago, the couple went through the class to be able to conceal and carry firearms. Nita Gross said immediately her husband began thinking about a new project related to those sidearms. He looked at countless revolvers and bullets.
"He's so single focused, that's how he gets when he's working on a project," Nita Gross said.
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MaxBotix started in a garage. One of 400-square feet to be exact. As the business grew and added equipment that couldn't fit in the garage, it expanded to office space in Baxter. Demand continued to force moves of the production facility in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. In May of 2013, the business moved onto an acreage just south of Brainerd.
A short distance past South Long Lake, a dream for a classic horse boarding facility created a 22,000-square-foot equine center complete with offices, full-service tack shop, box stalls and an indoor riding arena.
Four Winds Horse Center was up and running in 2008 and hosting dressage and hunter jumper schooling shows in 2009, but getting enough interest in the 50-stall boarding facility proved to be challenging in the wake of the Great Recession.
When ownership reverted to the bank, Bob and Nita Gross saw an opportunity to repurpose the site for their technology company.
Horseshoes embedded into the concrete floor of what once was the retail tack shop now square up in the MaxBotix reception area and lead to a door that once led to the barn. Now computer work stations, a 3-D printer, engineering, assembly and shipping areas fill the former stables. The tack room is now a team meeting space.
The 23 acres of land, including pastures bordered by thick pine tree groves along with substantial building space provides just what they wanted-room to grow.
In 2015, MaxBotix is ranked No. 3616 in the 34th annual Inc. 5000, a list of America's fastest growing companies.
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The focus was on something Gross saw as missing from the market-a speed loader for a revolver that could be small and light and easily carried on a keychain. The idea is now patent pending. Bob and Nita Gross unveiled the new product they expect to consume renovated riding arena space at the open house. They expect big things for the little fast loaders.
"This is going to be super easy to sell," Nita Gross said.
Plans are to create molds to make the fast loaders to provide ammunition quickly and easily for revolvers and derringers.
"In a semi-automatic fast loads are common, but they are magazines," Bob Gross said. "In revolvers, they use something called a speed loader, which pulls the shells from the back."
Bob Gross said typically the holder for the bullets is as large as the bullets themselves. Since the bullets are unprotected they have to go inside another holder.
"So this eliminates that and holds the bullets lined up with the cylinders and you just dump them in," Bob Gross said. "So this is the same function, half the size, less weight, less bulky. Two reloads can go on a key ring."
The case weighs a little more than a nickle, perhaps a quarter. It can be made for any size bullet. Bob Gross said he thinks it will retail for about $35 for a single loader. Without the molds yet for mass production, they would like to first determine the interest of gun manufacturers.
"If I pull the trigger I can do five or 10 molds right now, but I have to know which ones, but it's easier to talk to the manufacturers and find out which ones want to be first, second, then third."
They expect to be able to sell products at Bullettote as they do at the global MaxBotix, on their own website and through third parties. The new product was already getting positive feedback. "That is a neat idea," said Wade Martinsen as he turned the prototype over in his hands. "This would just be really nice. Just throw it right in and you are done."
In their research on the market and the product, Nita Gross said they didn't find any requirement to make a fast loader with a safety mechanism to prevent children from gaining easy access. But they wanted to be proactive so they made it with a design similar to a pill bottle, requiring a purposeful motion of pushing and turning at the same time to open the speed loader.
The prototypes on display came in black and a reddish-orange, but plans are to appeal to a number of women who also have conceal carry permits by producing a pink color as well.
RENEE RICHARDSON, associate editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz .