An Idea To Run With

March 19, 2007
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ZEELAND — After chasing his younger brother Jacob around the Detroit Free Press Marathon, hoping to catch a glimpse of him and cheer him on, Andrew Popchock thought there had to be a better way for spectators to track the runners they were supporting.

Now Popchock has the chance to make that thought a reality, with his JAADE Industries marathon runner tracking device, which won first place in the Lakeshore’s Next Top Entrepreneur contest earlier this month. The contest was sponsored by regional development organization Lakeshore Advantage, Macatawa Bank, and the Holland and Zeeland area chambers of commerce.

Contestants were local college students who presented ideas for products they were hoping to develop and take to market. The students submitted an application with their idea, then presented it in three rounds before a panel of judges.

In addition to a $1,000 prize and professional assistance from area attorneys, communications professionals and designers, Popchock will receive free rent and services for three months at the LakeshoreBusinessGarden, part of the regional development organization.

Second and third prizes of $500 and $250 went to Chad Hansen and Leo Morales, respectively. The contest was part of the national Entrepreneurship Week USA.

Popchock’s idea to use global positioning system technology to track runners from cell phones, GPS devises and kiosks along the marathon route was one that judges saw as well thought out and addressing the needs of a niche market.

“Andrew did an excellent job of defining the market, explaining the need and describing the opportunity in general,” said Nancy Boese, head judge and business tools specialist with the Michigan Small Business and TechnologyCenter.

Boese said the idea was feasible using existing technology, and that Popchock really understood the market he was trying to reach.

“I think it has great potential. Obviously, there is development that needs to be done, but much of the technology he needs is available,” she said.

The contest showed students what it takes to launch a business and develop new products and services, Boese said.

“It also showed the amount of work it takes to become an entrepreneur, and I think it opened up new networks to them,” she said. “We were so impressed with the presentation of the students. You don’t know what to expect, but they were all phenomenal.”

Popchock, a senior at HopeCollege majoring in management with a minor in communications, said he had been discussing the idea of the tracking device with his family since October, but it took this competition to really get the idea to come together.

Through this experience, Popchock said he has realized that ideas can come to fruition at any time in one’s career.

“You don’t have to go through the corporate ladder for 50 years and get all the work experience to have a good idea and bring it to market,” the 22-year-old said. “The way we’re always taught is that you have to pay your dues in in business and start at the very bottom of the totem pole and work your way up. To actually do this myself is something I never really realized until this contest.”

Popchock said he knows he still has his work cut out for him, finding investors and making a prototype of the product. Though he is near graduation, Popchock said he plans to balance the pursuit of his idea with a job while he sees what potential the product actually has.

As part of the prize, Barry Hutzel, studio manager at Tiger Studio in Zeeland, has offered to spend a few hours with Popchock to help problem solve and further develop the product. Hutzel said the technology necessary to the product can be cumbersome for a runner to wear, which he knows as a marathon runner himself.

Popchock, who has an interest in sports marketing, said he plans to pitch the product to different companies that are involved with marathons as well as marathon organizers and community sponsors.

His company name, JAADE Industries, is an acronym from his family’s first names, Jacob, Andrew, Andy, Debbie and Emily.

“That’s the name that we want to put on the product,” he said.

Popchock said he was impressed with the competition and with Lakeshore Advantage.

“They’re really keeping entrepreneurship alive and promoting an entrepreneurial way of thinking, which is great,” he said. “It also helped me realize that this can actually work.”

Hutzel, who was also one of the judges in the competition, said he thought it was a good way to promote entrepreneurs and to encourage people to stay in the area and establish new and varied companies.

“The event itself was outstanding for what it does in terms of trying to get young people to think outside of ‘How am I going to get a job when I’m done with school?’” he said.

Hutzel said he was impressed with the products and ideas of all the contestants, as well as with their presentation skills, which he said were on a “professional level.”

Amanda Chocko, marketing manager for Lakeshore Advantage, said they were pleased with the way the event turned out.

“The sponsors, judges and volunteers all did an outstanding job,” she said. “The competitors were all very impressive. They were well-prepared, articulate, and their ideas were all very interesting.”

Chocko said the organization will host the event again next year.

“It is so important for the economic vitality of our community that we all support entrepreneurship.”    

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