Some growing startups are flashy, hit social media hard, and make headlines in Inc. or Entrepreneur. Others grow in a quieter, more conservative way. David Levine built Wireless Environment like that.
He and his co-founder Mike Recker launched the Cleveland-based maker of wireless lighting in 2006 after becoming obsessed with the lights in hotel closets that turned on when they opened the door. David and Mike kept wondering why they didn’t have those in their homes.
A little research showed nothing like that existed for the everyday consumer, so David and Mike began building their first two fully wireless light fixtures.
But before they could finish, they ran out of cash. The pair applied to JumpStart’s Evergreen Fund in 2007, but didn’t get the investment.
“JumpStart turned us down because we didn’t have a big enough vision,” says David. “They suggested we talk to GLIDE.”
At that time, GLIDE was the administrator of a new pre-seed fund in Northeast Ohio called the Innovation Fund. The fund was designed to be the first external financing into a startup, investing even before JumpStart.
Wireless Environment became the Innovation Fund’s first $100,000 award winner in December 2007.
“The benefits from the Innovation Fund began during the application process,” David says. “The questions forced us to refine who were and what we wanted to accomplish. It also reminded us what we weren’t.”
They weren’t sexy. And they weren’t piquing media interest. While 2008 brought a frenzy of entrepreneurial activity, social media startups like LinkedIn and Twitter were topping the lists as startups to watch.
But David didn’t let his company’s unremarkable nature divert his attention.
He and Mike moved Wireless Environment into the GLIDE incubator to take advantage of the mentorship available through the funding process. The cash helped them develop and begin selling their first two lights. The guidance made them focus on the big vision that would enhance their next products. And both got them ready for JumpStart funding.
JumpStart’s 2009 investment allowed David to patent and build the technology that would manage their wireless lighting when off the grid. The company’s next two lights were wireless and smart. They tapped into the grid when electricity was cheap and shifted to battery use when electricity disappeared, was unreliable or spiked in cost.
“Once we launched our four products, we established ourselves as the leader in wireless lighting,” David says. “This status meant meetings with buyers of the large e-commerce sites and eventually with large big box retail buyers.”
Those big box retailers include Home Depot and Lowes.
Wireless Environment still might not be making headlines online, but it is setting records.
One of their lights was the first to receive 5,000 reviews on Amazon (93 percent positive by the way). And the very first light they launched is the largest selling light in Amazon history. In 2016, sales should reach $25 million.
David’s startup is one of the lesser known success stories out of Cleveland, but he doesn’t mind. “We don’t need to be exotic or newsworthy,” says David. “There is nothing more rewarding than quietly winning.”
Leigh Keeton manages Lorain County Community College's economic development messaging with a particular focus on its startup support programs, including GLIDE, the college's on-campus technology incubator, and Innovation Fund Northeast Ohio.