Startup sound bite: “It wasn’t so much that I sought to become an entrepreneur. When I was doing systems engineering at the bank, I was encountering the same problems and coming up with quick ‘band aid’ solutions. At first it didn’t dawn on me to dig deeper and see what the issue was, until my supervisor pointed out that you really have to get to the root of the problem to come up with a real solution. Now, in my life, when I see a problem, rather than a quick fix or a band aid, I try to come up with real solutions that are more long-term and lasting.”
Education: BS, Information Technology and Management, IIT School of Applied Technology, 2006
Business launch: Looking for a way to be more “green” and make better use of reusable shopping bags, Erica invented a product called Double Stax TM as part of her company Easy Simple Bags, LLC. The stackable, compact, reusable bin system allows shoppers to buy in bulk without having to remember to bring multiple reusable bags on each trip.
Inside track: Erica was invited to present her business idea to IIT Stuart’s Knapp Entrepreneurship Center Board of Advisors. After that presentation, board member Ronald Rashkow helped Erica connect with a company that helped her find a manufacturer for Double Stax TM.
Latest project: After participating in Walmart’s “Get on the Shelf” contest last year and being invited to apply to the ABC show “Shark Tank,” Erica is focusing on marketing her company and identifying stores that will sell Double Stax TM. The product is currently being considered for distribution through Menards stores and will be available at Farmer’s Markets and French Markets in the Chicagoland area this summer.
Erica welcomes any feedback on her product, and is particularly interested in marketing advice. Visit http://www.doublestax.com/ to learn more about her product and to connect with Erica.
Erica Bush didn’t plan on becoming an entrepreneur, much less an inventor. No stranger to hard work and persistence, Erica’s business idea developed the way many do — by looking for a real, long-term solution to a reoccurring problem.
Erica earned her bachelor’s degree from IIT in Information Technology Management part-time, while working full-time for IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. “Working full-time and having a family, I could only go to school in the evening,” she notes. With three kids at home, Erica quickly learned how to make the most of her time, and finished her degree in less than two years.
In 2006, Erica accepted a position with Bank of America, where she was attracted to the idea of combining technology and investment banking. That position was the key to a new outlook, one that would ultimately lead Erica to her business idea.
“When I was doing systems engineering at the bank, I was encountering the same problems and coming up with quick ‘band aid’ solutions,” she remembers. “At first it didn’t dawn on me to dig deeper and see what the issue was, until my supervisor pointed out that you really have to get to the root of the problem to come up with a real solution. Now, in my life, when I see a problem, rather than a quick fix or a band aid, I try to come up with real solutions that are more long-term and lasting.”
Based on that outlook, Erica came up with a novel approach to a tougher-than-expected New Year’s resolution. After committing to use reusable shopping bags to be more “green” one year, she noticed she often forgot the bags, or wouldn’t have enough to contain purchases for her family of six. “I came up with this idea — what if you use fewer bags, and you can store them neater in the trunk of your car?” she says.
After searching extensively in stores and online for a product that would fit her needs, she started sketching out ideas in a notebook for developing the product herself. “I had this idea, but in the beginning I didn’t think it was anything that I was going to create, I was just searching for the product that I needed, and I couldn’t find anything,” she says.
Once it became clear that the right product didn’t exist yet, Erica reached out to a neighbor and friend who could sew, and over a couple of months of collaboration, the two developed the first prototype for Double Stax TM. In the meantime, Erica worked with an intellectual property attorney to develop a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), and was asking everyone she talked with to sign one just to be safe.
Once the initial prototype was created, Erica filed a provisional patent and started holding informal demo sessions in her home with friends and family. She would have them review the “description of invention” from her patent application, and then give her feedback on the actual prototype.
“I used that process for the formal patent that I filed later,” she says, “because that was really good feedback for me. When you’re filing a patent, you have to be so precise in your language, and getting that feedback from that process really helped.”
Once she had feedback on her prototype, she started searching for manufacturers. Erica reached out to the Small Business Administrations’ SCORE Association and was put in touch with a volunteer business counselor with a background in manufacturing. After spending 3-4 months looking for domestic manufacturers and sewing contractors trying to create additional prototypes, she stopped by a local manufacturing company called Plano Molding in Plano, IL on a whim. Knowing that the company made tackle boxes and craft storage containers, she took a chance and asked if they could create additional prototypes for her. Although the manufacturer’s price wasn’t one she would choose as part of her long-term business strategy, she was able to purchase 20 additional prototypes, making her search for a manufacturer a bit easier.
“I really felt like I was spinning my wheels a lot, because when you’re starting something new that you’ve never done before – there was a lot of self-doubt, I didn’t know if I was doing the right or wrong thing, but I felt like I needed to be doing something,” she says.
Around the same time, she had entered a contest through Walmart called “Get on the Shelf” for inventors. Armed with a YouTube video and her additional prototypes, Erica officially made her product public and lobbied everyone she had ever met to vote for her product in the competition.
One of those contacts, a former colleague at IIT, suggested that Erica contact IIT Stuart’s Knapp Entrepreneurship Center for additional support. Erica connected with Nik Rokop, and started the application process for the ABC show Shark Tank with his feedback.
Nik invited Erica, along with a group of student and alumni entrepreneurs, to pitch their business ideas to the IIT Stuart Knapp Center’s Board of Advisors for additional support. Erica presented the Board with her current challenge — finding a manufacturer who could work within her price point. Board member Ronald Rashkow, formerly of the Handy Andy retail chain and current founding principal at RPMS, Inc., put Erica in touch with a promotional products company called Konik & Company in Skokie, IL, in hopes that they could recommend some overseas manufacturers.
“What I’m learning is that people really will help you if they think you have a good idea, and if they like you,” says Erica. “This entire experience has been a process, and I am learning constantly.”
With Konik’s help, Erica secured a manufacturer in China, and in August 2012, she received her first product shipment. So far, her business has been completely self-funded. “I really feel like, before I can ask anyone for money, I need to know for certain that they’ll sell,” she says, and with the production process finalized, she is ready to answer that question.
This spring, Erica is negotiating with Menards to debut Double Stax TM in their stores, and she plans to participate in several Farmer’s Markets and French Markets throughout the Chicagoland area once they open. Her product will be available for $19.99, and is currently available for purchase on her website as well. Her main goal moving forward is to develop her marketing plan and continue to do market research.
Meanwhile, Erica still works full time with Bank of America and devotes a lot of energy to her family, but is hoping her company will eventually become her full-time career. “My company is called Easy Simple Bags, and what I’d like to do is offer easy simple solutions for your everyday life,” she says. “I hope that the Double Stax TM is just one of many products that will make your life easier and simple.”