Start-Ups.Co really enjoyed interviewing the brilliant entrepreneur; Ms. ‘Pamela Norris'; CEO at the US-Maryland Based – Start Up “ICEBUDDY”.
Below, is the full interview that we have conducted :
1. What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about?
ICE Buddy™ Systems, Inc. is an innovative storage container development company that designs, patents and markets essential, practical and affordable medical supplies and emergency preparedness items. Our first offering is an emergency preparedness product called the ICE Buddy™. This is a portable system that enables ice, water, medication and emergency supplies to be stored and transported easily. The ICE Buddy was created for every day use as well as emergency readiness. It is the only kosher manufactured emergency preparedness product on the market that is also specifically designed for use by the elderly and handicapped.
2. When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?
ICE Buddy Systems, Inc. was founded in 2005. The company is an early stage start-up. We have patents pending, contracts with manufacturers, core executive team identified and have met with potential buying groups. We have a Customer Contact Center and merchant services account. Our website (www.icebuddy.net) was recently redesigned by a professional firm illustrating our new branding and tag line “KEEP COOL and CARRY ON”. We have established a presence on social media. A weekly podcast show on Buzzsprout
(http://icebuddyshow.buzzsprout.com) illustrates the various applications for this versatile product.
Funding to date has been achieved with Angel investors and the co-owners’ personal funds. An additional $250,000 needs to be raised to begin manufacturing the product.
3. What is your startup’s business model and how does it work?
Our business model has identified a new niche in the market, combining the preservation of medication with the supply of water for an extended period of time. Unlike other products on the market, the versatility of the ICE Buddy System enables its use for everyday activities coupled with emergency situations.
The Company intends to grow a business that lasts and establish the brand as a product leader and innovator in the emergency preparedness marketplace. The Company will continue to develop and introduce new product extensions once the marketing platform is established.
Initially, our products will be sold primarily to medical, corporate, and government clientele as well as through our e-commerce website. At a point in time to be determined, we will selectively place our products in retail chains.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
Each member has prior working experience with ICE Buddy’s CEO which has translated into a cohesive team aligned with the leadership’s values and vision.
Pamela S. Norris, Co-founder, President and Chief Executive Officer will direct implementation of the business plan, financial oversight and provide managerial direction.
Lorraine T. Jones, Co-founder, and Sr. Vice President of Design & Production, will oversee R&D manufacturing, warehousing and distribution functions.
Regina Weichert, Director of Communications will focus on social media and corporate sustainability.
Anthony Alleyne, Director of Logistics, will be responsible for overseeing the operation of the computer network as related to warehousing, distribution, and travel.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
The ICE Buddy System is unique because it provides multifunctional applications. Unlike traditional coolers, our QOOLER has a patented gel encased in the wall that keeps food or medicine cold for 3 day intervals. Conventional backpacks are designed either to hold items or water. Our QPACK holds ice, water or bottles of water, as well as other items.
Unlike other products which have utilization in 3-5 markets, our product is applicable in 26 different markets. It also is the first product of its type designed specifically to be used by the elderly and handicapped, as well as the able bodied. Due to the fact the QOOLER carries food, we went a step further to insure it was Kosher manufactured. This broadens the user population.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has your startup achieved so far?
Our growth has focused on identifying key personnel who share the vision and passion for this undertaking, educating the public about this new technology product that enables them to be prepared at all times, establishing a brand, and marketing the company to potential investors and consumer groups.
We have achieved the following milestones:Secured provisional international patent applications; Identified experienced key personnel and established an Advisory Board; Manufactured a prototype; Secured letters of intent to manufacture from four U.S. manufacturing /distribution companies; Identified suppliers of all materials needed for manufacturing; Created a web site ; Established social media presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google + and YouTube; Established e-commerce sales; Contracted a Customer Service Center; Produced a weekly podcast highlighting the ICE Buddy System.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?
Our key competitors for the QOOLERTM are Igloo and Tupperware. We co-opted both companies by requiring their execution of confidentiality and non-compete documents before they quoted us prices for manufacturing our product. They will manufacture the QOOLERTM .
Key competitors for the QPACK™ are Camelback which manufactures backpacks and Platypus, a brand of Cascade Designs, which manufactures hydration systems. Our technology combines the benefits of both designs in an innovative survival product. It is our material standards and the combination of the two elements that set us apart.
These identified competitors have attained commercial recognition, however, their products are not designed to survive the rigors and demands of disaster conditions. We will develop commercial recognition through superior customer service, quality products and a 26 week branding campaign.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
Our first obstacle was to identify an intellectual property lawyer who had experience working with a company with global aspirations and was powerful enough to protect our patent position. We were successful in being admitted as a client in the world’s largest intellectual property law firm.
Our second obstacle was to neutralize the threat from our two major competitors, Igloo and Tupperware. This was accomplished by entering into non-compete contractual arrangements with their wholly owned manufacturing firms.
The third obstacle was to assemble the capital needed to file our patent applications, manufacture our prototype, build a professional website with merchant service capability, contract with a Customer Service Center, establish an office and all the other initial costs associated with establishing a corporate presence. We achieved this by using all our personal funds and receiving additional funding from Angel Investors.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
Outsiders do not understand the cost associated with manufacturing and the cost associated with manufacturing products using the most durable materials available. This is exacerbated by the cost associated with manufacturing in the USA as opposed to China.
We are making a product designed to save lives; therefore, we will not compromise on materials. It is also important that our product carry the MADE IN THE USA label. We have the opportunity to provide employment and expand manufacturing once again in America.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
The ICE Buddy technology fills a market niche that accounts for a minimum of $100 million dollars in potential sales with profits exceeding 17mm. This niche needed a product that combines the preservation of medication with the supply of water for an extended period of time. The ICE Buddy System meets that need.
ICE Buddy Systems, Inc. will succeed because it is based on passion, persistence and purpose. We have assembled a talented cadre of associates who share a common vision and want to make a positive difference in the world.
11. If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
We have five additional products on the drawing board that utilize our revolutionary technology. Our corporation will focus its product line on meeting needs in the medical, health care and emergency preparedness areas. Our products will be known for their versatility; which will expand their applicability to markets focused on recreation, personal and travel items.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?
I headed a security consulting firm for nearly 20 years where I trained law enforcement officers, wrote security and risk management plans for mixed use facilities and consulted to various corporations. In addition, I have been a member of the Salvation Army which has required me to respond to disasters. Over the years I saw a need for products like those we have designed. These products will save lives, improve efficiency in emergency response and enable citizens to be self sufficient during a crisis.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
I have learned that in this economy, investors are less likely to take a risk with a start-up and instead are looking for companies with past and current sales. This puts companies like ours at a disadvantage for securing funding. We cannot secure sales until we can provide customer groups and our sales force with samples. Because the QOOLER requires an expensive five part injection plastic mold to be made to create the product, the manufacturing firms will not begin production without payment. This is why we need investment funds. The same is true for the military grade materials used in the complex pattern for our QPACK.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
Our biggest problem will be managing our growth. We have received interest in this innovative product globally from such disparate groups as First Responders, Coal Mine Operators, Foundations, Hospitals, Hotels, Faith Groups, etc. Anticipating this potential explosion in demand, we have secured contracts with additional manufacturing firms that meet our specifications and have begun investigating potentially building our own plant in an economically depressed location that would welcome the employment opportunity.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
The consumer will benefit with the ICE Buddy System by having a quality made product that will last for years and stand up under harsh conditions. Another benefit resulting from this new technology is that globally, people who use medication requiring refrigeration will now have the freedom and ability to travel long distances and participate in activities that were not accessible to them. This increased mobility results from the ICE Buddy System’s preservation of medications at the proper temperature for 72 hours (3 days).
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
Customers and users have learned about us through social media sites such as Facebook,Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube , our website, the weekly podcast we air on Buzzsprout at http://icebuddyshow.buzzsprout.com, our attendance at conferences, professional membership meetings, community organizations, Chamber of Commerce fairs, newspaper articles written on our company and networking.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
Our target customers are the following groups that can use the ICE Buddy System:
Assisted Living Centers/Nursing Homes
Boating Community and Cruise Lines
Faith Based Organizations
First Responders, Red Cross, Salvation Army
Government Agencies (Federal, State, Local)
Hospitals (Medical, Psychiatric, Rehabilitation)
Insurance Companies (Health and Life Insurance)
Pharmaceutical Companies, Ambulance Industry
Real Estate Developers
Recreation Industry, Sporting Goods Stores
Pet Stores, Zoos, Veterinarians, Animal Shelters
Transportation Services (Airports, Trains, Buses)
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
New potential users are identified by individuals who upon seeing the ICE Buddy System and its capability tell us how and why they would use it. We have learned from a professional underwater photographer how the boating community has a need for it. A doctor informed us that Jewish hospitals need this product because it is Kosher manufactured. Native Americans have informed us that due to the high incidence of diabetes, their members will now be able to attend the three day outside POW WOWS using the QOOLER to keep their insulin at the proper temperature. Ostomates have written to say that the ICE Buddy System will allow them to discreetly carry and travel with their medical supplies. In other words, individuals will inform us of applications we have yet to imagine.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
A firm that markets automated external defibrillators said the ICE Buddy aligns with their product offerings. The head of a medical clinic in Nicaragua wants to transport medication in it and have it issued to health providers. The Medical Director of a NGO in Kenya says the ICE Buddy will make it possible to bring immunization to rural communities.
20. How are you going to scale?
We have already identified the manufacturing capacity of our primary manufacturers. Each of them have sister plants that will come into play as volume necessitates. We also have identified third tier plants and are exploring establishing our own manufacturing plant to address scale and reduce costs. As individuals seek reliable, durable and versatile products to meet their needs and as government groups, NGOs, and the remaining 26 markets identified request this product, we have positioned ourselves to respond.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
Customers ask us if this comes with a water filter. There are numerous quality water filter companies on the market and we will be looking at them to decide which to make available as an accessory item. We strive to be the best at what we design and are not interested in recreating the wheel when talented engineers have already designed highly functional water filters.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
We have our US, International and Taiwanese patent applications. This is an international company, who has legal council from the world’s largest intellectual property law firm. Our mission is to save lives globally. For product needed oversees, we have identified manufacturing plants on each continent that we can use to expedite delivery there. We will interface with other international corporations, NGOs, Faith-based Groups and Foundations that can facilitate distribution of our product line.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
The Small Business Administration, University Technology Incubators and Market Analysts have informed us that this product is needed globally. The SBDC Information Clearinghouse in conjunction with the University of Texas at San Antonio conducted market research on our product’s NAICS and SIC Codes. The findings substantiated that this is the right product at the right time in a growth industry which will provide a solid return on investment capital. We expect to be a multimillion dollar company within the first year of operation, just from the contacts we have made with potential customer groups. We will be measured in our actions and planning. A closely evaluated product development, customer relations, and personnel program will be instituted. Our R&D division will assess how to improve our product line and identify what to manufacture next.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
We will not be in a position to hire until the we secure the $250,000 funding necessary to begin manufacturing. Once manufacturing has commenced, we will need to hire quality control specialists, administrative assistants, and sales personnel. Anyone interested in submitting a resume can email it to email@example.com. We will review it and keep it on file until such time as we begin hiring.
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
We are willing to entertain Partnerships, funding from Venture Capitalists or Angel Investors, large prepaid orders or donations to our Foundation to achieve the $250,000 needed to begin manufacturing. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Once funding is achieved, the initial product will be ready for distribution in 16 weeks. This is the timeframe needed to order and receive the raw materials, create the mold and begin the manufacturing of the QOOLER and industrial sewing of the QPACK.
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurs need to have a passion for what they are doing that transcends their personal wants and needs. They will be called upon to invest all their time, money, and intellect to make their dream a reality. Persistence and patience will be needed because many things will be beyond their control.