Fire Sight LLC: The smarter smoke detector amazes mentors, disrupts industry and SURGE-s ahead

Fire Sight LLC: The smarter smoke detector amazes mentors, disrupts industry and SURGE-s ahead

It’s special and rare and inspiring to watch two entrepreneurs so dialed into an idea that they almost finish each other’s sentences.

When Neil Weeda shares a flurry of technical terms, explaining the inner workings of Deep Sight, their game-changing product, James Cerone sometimes jumps in, simplifying the concept for the non-scientific mind, then adding a little razzle dazzle he learned from his wedding DJ dad, before finishing with a million-dollar smile.

When Cerone provides detailed analogies and marketing pitches, yet pauses about some product details, Weeda steps in, providing the theory and the mechanics, convincing you this product will work, even if he doesn’t sleep for three days to figure out the problem.

But that’s the magic of Weeda and Cerone, they are real-time phone-a-friends for each other. They balance each other out. Their chemistry is contagious. So is their passion. Drive. Energy. Upbeat attitude.

Perhaps, the good vibes stem from their emerging idea, an idea that made their freshman year at Hope College much busier than expected: a smart fire detection system they hope will shake up the  fire industry and help prevent companies from sustaining millions of dollars in losses.

Cerone explained most current fire detection systems wait on the ceiling for fires to happen. Smoke detectors can be compared to a giant human nose sniffing for smoke and sprinklers are like human hands waiting to feel heat.

Deep Sight is more active and will mimic another human sense: sight. Therefore, some type of camera or imaging will be used, Cerone said.

The benefits? Enter Weeda. First, it will locate the fire and using a black box idea provide data to where the fire started, what happened, etc. That data can be used to save lives down the road.

Next, integration with sprinklers, Weeda said. Instead of all the sprinklers turning on, or the wrong ones turning on, just the exact sprinklers required turn on and then turn off immediately after the fire is out. Millions of dollars in equipment and product saved.

Finally, targeted suppression, catching a fire as early as possible – not when smoke hits the ceiling – and putting it out before it has a chance to become big.

A surge of support

Weeda and Cerone couldn’t have picked a better time to start a business in Ottawa County.

Today the brilliant minds at Lakeshore Advantage will introduce Surge, an entrepreneurial services program that will offer a “boost of energy that can help a startup achieve their next growth milestone.”

LARGE_withLA_transparentEducation and programming and events and meetups and resources.

Brooke Corbin

Brooke Corbin

In other words, building on the strong foundation of the Holland Smart Zone, which already provides support to high-tech companies within certain boundaries of Holland. However, Surge has a broader focus.

“The excitement around Surge is the ability to develop an ecosystem for ALL entrepreneurs to start here and stay here on the Lakeshore, knowing that this community supports their doing so by providing a wide range of services and connection points to area service providers, mentors and to each other,” said Brooke Corbin, manager of innovation solutions at Lakeshore Advantage.

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Matt Gira

Matt Gira, co-founder of Fathom and a mentor to Fire Sight LLC through Hope College’s Entrepreneurial Institute, said working with Surge only makes sense for Weeda and Cerone.

“I think it’s going to help them in a lot of ways,” Gira said. “Whether that’s the mentorship, different connections, or potential funding, Lakeshore Advantage is creating a lot of great resources for businesses in the area that they should be able to tap into.”

In fact, Weeda and Cerone are just the type of talent Corbin hopes will become the next generation of major employers in Ottawa County.

“Fire Sight LLC is a perfect example of the kind of company that Surge can support—they are developing a new technology and will need resources to grow their startup here,” Corbin said.

Bringing the product to market

Back to Weeda and Cerone and Deep Sight.

It all started in the fall of 2016, when they lived on the same floor on Hope’s campus. They start talking about business ideas until one stuck out – a smarter smoke detector, one that was more proactive then reactive.

But they didn’t do much with it and left for Christmas break.

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James Cerone

When they returned, though, a series of random situations sparked action. Cerone went for a quick run before a cross country meet and ran into firefighters doing a demonstration. He got a business card. They later met with a firefighter and immediately afterward stumbled upon a Hope College entrepreneurship program meeting. They were invited in.

The result? Those back-to-back meetings validated their idea.

“It got serious real quick,” Cerone said.

They heard about M West Challenge, West Michigan’s regional business plan competition and hustled to prepare in just weeks. Initially they thought Deep Sight would sell for homes, but quickly pivoted to commercial buildings after talking with homeowners and realizing the price would make it a tough sell.

And life still went on, they were full-time students, with lab reports to write, even the night of the competition.

“We did this on our own time,” Weeda points out.

The dedication, the commitment, and the grind did not go unnoticed to the Hope College entrepreneurship community.

“When I met the team for the first time, I think our entire team at Hope said ‘They’re freshmen students? That’s amazing,'” Gira said. “They’re an incredibly talented team, that works hard, and what I think is the most important part is that they’re thoughtful about everything they do. They get a lot of work done, and everything they do has a purpose, which is so great to see in young entrepreneurs.”
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Neil Weeda

Oh, and Fire Sight LLC, took second place at M West Challenge, thanks to a sweet idea and sweet presentation by Cerone, awarding them a $2,000 prize and $2,500 in legal services.
“We’re still so early in the process,” Weeda said. “To do that well, I am quite proud of.”
The next step is narrowing their target market, even though they desperately want to make a prototype. Satisfying their customer’s needs will lower development cost and lower business risk.
“Defining a target market for them is more important than building a prototype right now because they need to know how to exactly solve the problems that their customers have. They could have the greatest prototype in the world, but if it doesn’t solve a problem, it’s worthless,” Gira said.
 There’s other issues like who will run the business and regulations and whether they should license the technology instead. However, in the end, they want to save businesses money, save lives and end the notion insurance will cover everything if a fire happens.
“It’s ridiculous,” Cerone said. “You can’t risk it.”
If you are interested in learning more or collaborating with Fire Sight LLC, contact Weeda at neil.weeda@hope.edu.
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Ryan Wenk: How ‘right person, right seat’ fuels Worksighted’s explosive growth

Ryan Wenk: How ‘right person, right seat’ fuels Worksighted’s explosive growth
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Ryan Wenk

As Ryan Wenk prepared to graduate from Northwood University, he developed a list of 50 companies he was interested in working for.

They were different sizes and different industries, but all based in Michigan. Wenk reached out to them all, eventually talking with 10 businesses, before booking meetings with about five companies in his original top 50.

One of the meetings? A relatively small tech company, with just over 30 employees at the time, based in Holland, Mich.

Worksighted.

Barry Rice, director of sales and marketing at the time, helped Wenk learn more about Worksighted’s past and future, and what potential opportunities might be available when he graduated.

Once he did graduate, Wenk had offers from companies on Michigan’s East Side, but he couldn’t quite shake his positive experience with Worksighted. So he made a phone call.

“I had a good feeling this would be a good fit for me. Quickly after, I had an offer from Worksighted – within a week I accepted the offer, graduated, and moved to Holland, a place where I knew no one,” Wenk recalls. “Looking back it is pretty unbelievable at times, in some ways I got lucky, but in a lot of ways I setup myself up for success by knowing what I wanted in a career, and being proactive to find a place that would align with my vision.”

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Welcome to the team, Employee #34.

Since that special moment nearly three years ago, a moment that seemed almost destined, Wenk has helped promote the heck out of Worksighted, a firm that has almost doubled to about 65 employees and increased its revenue to an estimated $12 million in 2017.

He’s the marketing manager now, experimenting, talking strategy, and, like everyone at Worksighted, blazing new trails. The company is only 17-years-old after all.

“Having the opportunity to develop a strategy and execute on it at this level, this early in my career is amazing,” Wenk said. “Since every day presents a new challenge, we also have the opportunity to learn something new every day. Having a direct impact on the success of Worksighted on a day-to-day basis is the most valuable thing to me – I’m enjoying the ride and loving every second of it, including the failures.”

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Image at Worksighted headquarters in Holland

Creating a job for himself

Wenk didn’t start as marketing director, of course, he had to earn it.

But thanks to Worksighted’s innovative, wait, let’s try a different phrase, employee-focused work culture, that’s better, Wenk had the leadership support to find the perfect spot for him.

Which brings us to Right person, right seat, a core company principle.

Wenk began his Worksighted journey as a sales representative, meaning he helped qualify potential clients and set appointments for senior representatives.

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Six months in he discovered, however, it was difficult to land appointments because Worksighted had a limited brand awareness. Even though marketing hadn’t crossed his mind as a full-time career path, he had marketing experience in his internships, so Wenk recognized an opportunity.

Honest, open communication is encouraged at Worksighted, allowing him to approach leadership with no worries. He pitched them the value in having a dedicated marketing person on the team – someone to align sales and marketing to build brand awareness and continue growth. He felt he should transition into it.

In other words, right person, wrong seat.

“It’s not that I don’t think I could have been successful in sales, but marketing is a more natural fit for me,” Wenk said. “The leadership team knew I was a good culture fit, and were willing to take a risk and let me develop the marketing. Eight months later, I was officially moved into a dedicated marketing position.”

Right person, right seat.

Wenk started learning marketing hands-on, just the way he likes it.

“I learn through doing things, not through reading online or in class,” he said, speaking from a conference room with an orange accent wall to his left, a slim laptop in front of him, keeping an occasional eye on the Tuesday happenings at the company. “I am given the freedom to try new things.”

What he’s selling

People. Simple as that.

Sure, Worksighted has incredible IT support services that help businesses grow by aligning their technology with their business goals. Employees manage IT services for companies and help implement new IT projects for companies.

If they didn’t take care of business there, Worksighted wouldn’t have clients in Holland and Grand Rapids and Lansing and the Detroit area. Or be opening a satellite office in the Wixom area.

That said, competing IT companies also offer similar services. So why Worksighted?

Well, Wenk is confident Worksighted’s people stack up. Their skills first and foremost. But their passion, that’s the secret sauce, my friend.

“People come to work every day and love what they do,” he said.  “The difference is the people who deliver the services.”

That leads to next-level customer service. And happy customers.

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Mike Harris, co-founder and vice president of Worksighted, touched on this during his speech at TEDxMacatawa on Tuesday. He said businesses today must deliver outcomes, not just value. And they must have a strong belief in the outcomes they care about, gain alignment around it, build trust, innovate, pull in new people from outside and then, and only then, deliver incredible outside value.

“The days of a job is just a job are over,” Harris said. “A job is a cause.”

He promoted the idea of growth through coaching, letting employees drive and figure things out, because they might just be more careful and effective in some areas than the business owner.

“Trust them,” Harris said.

Worksighted trusted Wenk to deliver on his desire to transform the company’s brand awareness. And he has. And he will continue to. He’s motivated because he’s not marketing a widget, he’s marketing people he enjoys and a home away from home.

“If you are not really passionate about what you are marketing, it’s not going to be as quality as it could be,” Wenk said. “I haven’t dreaded coming to work one day since I have been here.”

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