Bankers Leap Internet Gambling

July 17, 2006
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Now coming off its first $1 million year, WizWheelz has shed many of the characteristics that once scared lenders. Namely, it is opening a brick-and-mortar store this month.

The company launched 10 years ago with $3,000, a Web site, and a three-wheel bike design that partner Jack Wiswell believed improved on every model in the marketplace. Although it had a tangible product, WizWheelz was truly an Internet company. Its only assets were intellectual property and some limited inventory. All manufacturing was outsourced to local contract manufacturers. All sales were done through its Web site, wizwheelz.com.

Despite their most conservative efforts, the orders grew large enough that WizWheelz had no choice but to seek financing. Without a roughly $100,000 investment, the company could go no further. The hometown bank it had been working with bailed out, and the company soon found itself searching for capital.

"Internet company. Too much risk. Sorry," co-founder Wayne Oom recounted. "We had a tangible product, but they looked at us and said, 'You don't even have a facility or store. You're Internet-based!'"

After a madcap search of banks, government programs, venture capitalists and individual investors, Oom and his partners found Beth Plugge of Comerica Bank in Grand Rapids. She took the time to examine the company, and took the gamble.

"What they needed was someone to sit down and listen to their story," Plugge said. "Someone that understood their plans and saw their passion."

The company grew rapidly. It moved into a small Hastings facility in 2003, and the slim physical assets provided enough comfort to convince dealers — now 60 across North America — to sign on with the company. Prospective customers traveled from several states to evaluate the $1,200 to $4,000 bikes.    

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