CHAMPAIGN — Three military veterans hope to launch their own business this spring with a product that cleanly dispenses the right amount of powder for protein shakes, sports drinks and baby formula.
Blake Schroedter, Michael Pett and Tony Genovese are getting ready to market the Easy Go dispenser, which they believe will prove popular with fitness enthusiasts and parents of infants.
The dispenser eliminates the mess and hassle of carrying powder and mixing it with water while on the go.
"Fitness enthusiasts have to carry around large tubs of protein or (powder in) plastic Ziploc bags that can make a mess when you pour it into a water bottle or shaker cup," said Pett, Easy Go's chief financial officer.
"Maybe the bag's not going to seal, and the power will spill over your clothing and gym bag," he said.
With Easy Go, parents can send their infants to day care, knowing that their kids will get the right amount of baby formula, Pett said.
"It's all right there, pre-measured and easy to use," he said.
Pett said the Easy Go dispenser has a metering unit (15 grams for powdered protein, adjustable amounts for specific types of baby formula). The dispenser can hold up to 200 grams of baby formula or powdered protein in its lower cavity.
"What you do is, take our dispenser, turn it over, and the formula is going to drop into the metering unit. You turn it one rotation clockwise, and (the powder) dispenses into a funnel, which has a cap on it," Pett said.
"Then, you take the baby bottle or water bottle or shaker cup, unscrew the cap, and (the powder) will go right into it," he said. "We've made (Easy Go) so the top portion dispenses into any size water bottle. It'll fit and give you a spill-free dispense every time."
There are expected to be three versions of the product — Easy Go Pro for protein powder, Easy Go Baby for infant formula and Easy Go Sport for powdered sports drinks.
Pro is getting ready for manufacture, Baby is in the prototype stage and Sport will follow, Pett said.
Schroedter, the company's chief executive officer, said the team is considering a price point of $20 to $25 for the Easy Go Pro.
"We've been reaching out to fitness enthusiasts and gyms" to get word out about the product, Pett said.
Some formula companies have expressed interest in marketing the baby line, so Easy Go is considering the possibility of licensing it, he said.
The Easy Go team has been taking part in the Illinois Launch program at the University of Illinois, getting advice on how to take the product to market.
The team launched Easy Go Pro on Kickstarter , an online fundraising site, on March 11, with the goal of raising at least $20,000 in 60 days, Schroedter said.
Those who pledge certain amounts to the campaign will receive gifts, and the awards are likely to include Easy Go dispensers, drawstring bags and windbreakers, said Genovese, the company's chief of marketing.
Schroedter, 28, received a bachelor's degree in psychology in 2008 from the UI and is a doctoral student at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago.
Genovese, 27, is pursuing a bachelor's in marketing at UI Chicago.
Pett, 32, received a bachelor's degree in sociology from the UI in 2007. He is a full-time recruiter for the Illinois Army National Guard.
All three served overseas, having been stationed in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. Schroedter and Genovese were also deployed to Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009.
It was Schroedter, Pett said, who came up with the idea for Easy Go, on the plane ride home from Afghanistan.
"After long combat missions or intense workouts, we had no ability to get any protein," Pett said. "Either we'd have to make shakes before going out on a mission — and they might spoil — or we would have to use impromptu methods to dispense our protein, using engine funnels, newspapers, anything to help get protein into our bottles."
They began developing the product about 18 months ago and had a friend draw up plans for the original model, Pett said.
Schroedter said the idea seemed "a simple fix" to the problem of storing, carrying and dispensing protein. He said his sister, who has three children, was the one who pointed out the dispenser could work for baby formula as well.
So far, the team has put over $45,000 into "bootstrapping" the venture, Pett said. That money has gone for design work, developing and securing intellectual property, patenting, prototyping and developing a website.
Pett said the founders plan to keep the business in Champaign but have the manufacturing done in China. Their vice president of production, David Moise, has manufacturing ties there, Pett said.
The initial production run will consist of 3,500 units, he said. The products will be made of Eastman Tritan plastic, which is free of BPA (bisphenol A), a substance linked with harmful health effects.
"I've got to give a lot of credit to the University of Illinois program," Pett said. "Without the Illinois Launch program and the help of John Clarke and Amara Andrews, I'd be lost," he said.
The team is participating in the Cozad New Venture Competition at the UI this spring. Winners of that competition are to be announced March 31.
This story appeared in print on March 4.