TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Late nights sometimes turn into early mornings when the Porter brothers work in the shop set up in their grandmother’s garage.
Family and friends help assemble packages of sticky LED lights made for sporting equipment, trying to build up an inventory before the holidays hit.
Garret Porter, 16, and Dakota Porter, 19, invented their first set of snowboard lights to jazz up a white-washed day on Mt. Holiday three years ago. Enthusiasm from other snowboarders encouraged the brothers to launch a business, 45th Parallel Lighting, and their line of products, Action Glow, the Traverse City Record-Eagle (http://bit.ly/1zOvZV7 ) reported.
“Everyone wanted to touch it, wanted to know where we got it from,” Dakota said. “We thought this could be a huge business.”
The brothers spent two years developing the current product, officially starting the business last year. They had to design and manufacture their own waterproof casing for a 9-volt battery, find a way to attach the lights to equipment, develop a business plan, file a patent for their invention and get funding to build up inventory.
Action Glow kits come for a variety of sporting goods — from skateboards to golf carts to surfboards — and provide an ounce of style and safety to riders who light up in the night. Each one takes about 15 minutes to make.
The brothers fit snugly into their target market, sports enthusiasts between the ages of 10 and 25, but they’re creating more products to garner new customers. Garret said they are working on Safety Glow products for wheel chairs, strollers and other equipment that needs to be visible to night-time traffic. They hope to break into an international market, too, if demand can justify the extra cost of labeling the goods in other languages and shipping worldwide.
“Hopefully we’ll be getting into the markets of golf carts,” Garret said. “There are so many golf carts out in Florida.”
The Porters used a lot of local business planning resources to start 45th Parallel Lighting. They reached out to a SCORE mentor, secured funding help through the MidMichigan Innovation Center and received patenting advice from Wayne State University.
But there were challenges to getting started. Action Glow’s online crowdfunding campaign missed its goal, so the Porters collected returnable cans to raise funds 10 cents at a time. They searched the world for a waterproof battery case, and when they couldn’t find one had to develop their own. They juggle the business with busy work and school schedules.
Youthful enthusiasm helps, but Garret said the boys’ age can be a challenge.
“A disadvantage of being young is people don’t take you seriously,” Garret said. “We’ve lost numerous competitions because judges don’t think we’re going to take it far enough. We had the winning sales pitch, we clearly won with points, but the judges thought we were just doing this in the short term.”
It’s not all bad. Garret said the Porters get deals on manufacturing, website development and other needs.
“There’s so much support out there that’s not tapped,” he said.
Dakota and Garret hope to attend the Surf Expo in Orlando, Florida in January, where Action Glow kits would be displayed among sports companies such as Billabong, Quiksilver and GoPro.