The Journal Gazette
 
 
Sunday, January 23, 2022 1:00 am

Cool Indiana things highlighted

Manufacturers partake in tourney

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

Steve Parks fell from a golf cart when he was 13, resulting in a head injury that would block his hope of making the high school football team.

But his dad, Greg Parks, didn't want his son entirely sidelined from sports forever. Some ingenuity that started by attaching wheels to an old metal cart led him to eventually create Wheelin' Water, a Fort Wayne business that now has a 20-year history. And its portable hydration sports equipment – eliminating the need for running buckets of water to the field – is in a statewide “Coolest Thing Made in Indiana” contest.

“Everybody that sees it falls in love with what we're doing,” Parks said.

The online competition began Jan. 10 featuring products from 65 companies. With weekly public voting at www.indianachamber.com/coolestthing, the bracket-style field was whittled down to 32 at the end of Jan. 16. Another round of voting ends tonight with the finals ending Feb. 14. The champion will be announced Feb. 15.

Manufacturers with operations in nearly 50 communities, including Angola, South Whitley, Decatur, Warsaw, Syracuse and Portland, entered the competition. Entry was free and companies did not have to be headquartered in Indiana, but the product entered must be manufactured in the state, an Indiana Chamber of Commerce news release said.

Monica Miller is the entrepreneur behind Glasses Gripper, a relatively new business in Decatur. Miller said she learned about the contest last October through a Journal Gazette article.

After some business planning training, Miller launched Glasses Gripper in 2020 – the first year of COVID-19. The pandemic hampered some marketing efforts due to sporadic access to offices, but Miller said those who have seen the product are pleased. The gripper can be used while adjusting glasses or inserting lens, making the job more efficient with less use for hand cuts or damage that can delay a customer getting their order.

Miller spent 30 years in the optical field, including two working in a lab.

“I got tired of stabbing myself and ruining lenses,” she said last week.

Preventing damage to one lens each month at the retail level could save a business $800 to $1,000 annually, Miller estimates, but each gripper unit is $69.95. She hopes to attend a spring convention for those in the optical field – an event canceled last year due to the coronavirus.

“I've had some success, but I'm still considered fairly new,” said Miller, the sole employee for her business.

Greg Parks of Wheelin' Water said last week he is optimistic about winning the competition since the hydration equipment has been popular, attracting sales from grade schools and higher – even to six NFL teams.

He includes the Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs as customers.

Parks' business started out with that first metal frame cart in a garage at the family home. Parks said regular adjustments were made to improve the cart's utility and eventually someone asked him to make one for them. Wheelin' Water currently has a patent pending on its latest design – one sensitive to the pandemic that requires no touch.

Parks said he and his son, who have about five part-time workers, have customers throughout the U.S. and in Canada.

Wheelin' Water's battery-operated hydration system has been used for migrant workers and in other settings. Water capacity can range from 10 to 100 gallons and the cost, depending on the unit, ranges from $1,200 to $4,800.

Other northern Indiana businesses still in the Coolest Thing competition include:

• Blue Fox Farms LLC in Wawaka, which sells dormant ephemeral plant roots to nurseries across the country that pot them for retail customers. The business specializes in woodland and wetland plants. 

• Ceek Women's Health, which has a Batesville manufacturing plant, worked with designers, health care professionals and patients to develop a Nella NuSpec to make gynecological exams more comfortable. 

“Women's health care has been largely lacking innovation – until now,” a contest description says. The commonly used vaginal speculum – virtually unaltered since created more than 150 years ago by a man – creates anxiety and discomfort, it says.

• Hudson Aquatic Systems LLC in Angola, which designs, engineers, manufactures, assembles and sells underwater treadmill systems. The underwater treadmills can be used for a range of conditions, including bone and muscle damage, neurologic, stroke, cardio and exercise. The systems can be used by humans, small animals and horses.

“The idea is to use the natural properties of water, buoyancy, resistance and hydrostatic pressure, to create the best environment to exercise,” a contest description says.

lisagreen@jg.net

About the contest

What: Coolest Thing Made in Indiana, a competition with online voting at www.indianachamber.com/coolestthing. The competition, which began Jan. 10, is set up much like the NCAA basketball tournament, where companies are pitted in one-on-one matchups until there are two finalists.

Remaining weeks: Jan. 24 and Jan. 31 with semis Feb. 7-9 and the finals Feb. 10-14

Awarding winners: Special recognition will be given to the four semifinalists, with first and second place finishers getting additional attention.

Top winner gets:

The Coolest Thing Made in Indiana trophy

A feature article about the company in the 2022 May or August Indiana Chamber BizVoice magazine issue (more than 15,000 readers)

Coordinated media outreach promoting the win (press release, social media, blog)

• Official “Coolest Thing Made in Indiana” winner badge to be placed on product website

Recognition and profile on The Coolest Thing Made in Indiana website

An invitation to appear on the IN Chamber podcast or filmed video appearance for Chamber INsider e-newsletter (sent to 15,000)


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