Alissa Widman Neese
Apr 24, 2014 at 7:10 PM
In the world of entrepreneurs, Robert Striblen considers himself a force to be reckoned with.
His product: “Belt Force,” an adjustable apparatus used to equip a box or tote with an easy-to-carry harness and handle.
His big break: “The Hatch,” a competition at Bowling Green State University main campus providing him with a $25,000 investment to help his fledgling business flourish.
“If all goes according to plan, we’re going to see this on the shelves soon,” said Striblen, 35, a BGSU Firelands senior studying business.
“The Hatch” is based on the reality show “Shark Tank,” in which aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their business proposals to a panel of potential investors. The Bowling Green State University contest, exclusively for its students, is the only competition in the country that provides similar investment opportunities at the college level.
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The Regional Incubator for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship at BGSU Firelands assists local entrepreneurs with every step of the business-building process, free of charge.
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Striblen, the only BGSU Firelands student who qualified, swept the 12-person competition with his Belt Force proposal. Five of six investors from the panel agreed to fund his project with startup cash, while the sixth plans to help with retail distribution.
The investors, as well as the university’s faculty, believe Belt Force will be in high demand.
“He practiced giving his pitch to our students before ‘The Hatch,’ and based on the questions he received, I’d say there’s a huge potential market for a product like this” said Michelle Brodke, Striblen’s adviser at BGSU Firelands.
A friend and fellow veteran inspired Striblen to develop Belt Force.
In 2004, while Striblen was serving in the Navy, a friend in the Army lost an arm while fighting in Iraq. Everyday tasks, such as moving multiple or heavy objects, became difficult for him to accomplish.
By using Belt Force, he’s become independent again.
“I invented this device to make his life easier, sort of as a hobby,” Striblen said. “But once several people saw it, they loved it and wanted one, too, so it’s really been a consumer-driven process”
Since then, Striblen has developed several prototypes and is poised to produce 1,000 of the devices this year.
Although Belt Force is not yet on the market, the product will be available for purchase this summer after Striblen launches its website, beltforce.com . He also plans to market it on social media.
Particularly, Striblen thinks the product could become popular in the moving and travel industries, as well as among older adults.
If the product makes it big, he knows it could drastically change his life, as well as the lives of his wife, Holly, and four children, Jesse, 15, Brooklyn, 10, Abigail, 7, and Corey, 10 months.
They’re more than prepared.
“This has been a remarkable experience, and we’re just getting started,” Striblen said. “We’re ready to ride this wherever it takes us”