One of the first events of the 2018 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show is the annual SEMA Launch Pad, a competition for young entrepreneurs in the automotive aftermarket. This year, we got to be part of the action since Sean P. Holman, Truck Trend Network and Four Wheeler Network content cirector and co-host of the Truck Show Podcast, was selected to judge the event.
Holman joined fellow judges Greg Adler (Greg Adler Motorsports, SEMA Board of Directors), Ron Coleman (COMP Performance Group), Vaughn Gittin, Jr. (professional drifter, RTR Vehicles), and Wade Kawasaki (Coker Group, SEMA Chairman of the Board). Launch Pad 2018 was hosted by Donut Media’s James Pumphrey, who kept the event running smoothly with his characteristic sense of humor.
Listed below are each of this year’s contenders for the Launch Pad 2018 award, which included a $10,000 cash prize intended to benefit the winner’s business, premium placement at the 2019 SEMA Show, advertising and marketing support from SEMA, and discounts on SEMA data and information. Each contender was given three minutes to present his product, then two minutes to answer questions from the judges. The judges then deliberated and tallied scores to name a winner after hearing from all 10 competitors.
Winner: Matt Beenen, BuiltRight Industries
Matt Beenen, owner of BuiltRight Industries, claims to be always inventing, a characteristic that shines through in the product he presented at Launch Pad 2018: the Bedside Rack System. By using mounting brackets that can be placed in each of the four corners of a truck bed, the rack allows truck owners to mount landscaping equipment, shovels, jacks, recovery equipment, and sporting goods to their truck beds, securely holding each item in place. The judges liked the Bedside Rack System’s modularity and adaptability to a wide variety of activities a truck owner might undertake.
Ryan Amesbury, NeoCharge
Ryan Amesbury, founder of NeoCharge, presented the company’s LevelUp electric vehicle charging system. The LevelUp plugs into a 220V outlet—such as one used for an electric dryer—and tees it into two, allowing owners of electric vehicles to use quicker Level 2 chargers for their vehicles without having to install a pricey and permit-intensive dedicated charger. Amesbury claims that a sophisticated electronic control unit in the LevelUp sends power to either the dryer or the charger, preventing circuit breaks. The judges appreciated the simplicity of the solution, allowing even renters to enjoy Level 2 charging.
Todd Earsley, My Shop Assist
Todd Earsley, co-founder of My Shop Assist, presented an app that shares its name with the company. The My Shop Assist web app is designed specifically for aftermarket shops so managers and employees can track and schedule particular jobs, delegate tasks, log hours, track parts orders, and more. Earsley claims the app allows for more efficient shop operation, saving money and ensuring faster service and more satisfied customers. The judges acknowledged the benefits it would bring to an auto shop, allowing for easier monitoring and scheduling of jobs.
Stephen Hale, Stohd Outdoor
Stephen Hale presented his company’s Exoskeleton, a patented trail door for Jeep Wranglers. The Exoskeleton flares out in the middle, opening up elbow room for the driver and passenger or creating mounting locations for specially designed coolers, trail boxes, or camp chairs. Hale said the trail doors solve one of the biggest problems of going doorless on a Jeep by offering drivers added storage options for their off-roaders. The judges liked the Exoskeleton’s unique design and said that any product designed for a Wrangler was destined to be a popular offering.
Jonathan Hurley, ToolBox Widget, LLC
Jonathan Hurley founded ToolBox Widget, LLC, after the tools he used as an aircraft mechanic were stolen and he had to replace them piece by piece. Realizing how easy it was to lose tools and how much space other storage systems took up, he prototyped the ToolBox Widget, an individual wrench organizer that allows mechanics to customize their toolbox storage. ToolBox Widget also has organizers for pliers, sockets, and other hand tools, and the judges liked how clean and tidy it kept tool chests.
Zach Kowalik, Quick Covers
Zach Kowalik, who lives in the Rust Belt in Idaho, is the co-owner of Quick Covers, a company that produces faster, less expensive solutions to rust repair. Quick Covers are precision-molded plastic covers that fit over a truck’s cab corners and rocker panels, covering up the unsightly rust holes that corrosion can leave behind. Installed by either body shops or private owners, the Quick Cover Corrosion Solution also includes a rust-inhibiting sheetmetal spray, ensuring that the truck’s body won’t continue rusting underneath the corrosion-proof plastic cover. The judges liked the cost-effective rust solution, and said the system might be a good idea for off-road drivers who want to keep their sheetmetal scratch-free.
Christopher Owens, Creative Fabrication and Coatings
Christopher Owens presented his company’s unique Last Drop Wrench, an oil filter wrench that punches a hole in the filter before removal and allows much of that oil to drain out conveniently without splashing or spilling. Owens claims the Last Drop Wrench cuts oil change times significantly, improving efficiency for both large shops and shadetree mechanics. The judges liked the idea, expressing how helpful it could be amid tightening spill protection regulations.
Kansas Sartin, Pakmule, LLC
Kansas Sartin, owner of Pakmule, presented his company’s eponymous product, a TIG-welded aluminum hitch-mounted cargo carrier. The Pakmule enjoys a maximum carrying capacity of 500 pounds, and its low profile retains tailgate and liftgate access for pickups and SUVs. A proprietary anti-wobble hitch mount helps keep cargo securely attached to the vehicle, and Pakmule will never rust. Judges pointed out its solid-feeling construction, as well as Sartin’s own robust marketing plan.
George Schafer, SMS Auto Parts Co.
George Schafer, president of SMS Auto Parts Co., showed off the Exposed Racks system. These roof racks mount securely to a Jeep’s interior roll bars, their low-profile design fitting perfectly under a closed soft top. Schafer says this design allows the racks to be permanently attached without negatively affecting fuel economy or aerodynamics. Furthermore, the racks can be equipped with quick-clip attachments for different mounts and different activities. Judges liked the innovative design and solid-feeling attachments, as well as acknowledging how popular nearly any Jeep product will be.
Ed Uehling, King Tailgates
Ed Uehling, co-founder of King Tailgates, presented the KT1, an aftermarket replacement for an OEM truck tailgate. A variety of options are available for the KT1, including flip-up upholstered stadium chairs, USB charging ports, cargo storage, and more. The tailgates retain factory-standard styling and functionality of features like the rearview camera and more. Uehling claims the product makes more effective use of a thick, modern tailgate’s real estate. Judges liked the KT1’s styling and robust construction.