“Being passionate about something is not enough. You have to be humble enough to admit to what you do not know.”—Michael Heinrichs, founder of Hide-A-Vent
“We are so very fortunate here in the Commonwealth with the amazing resources to help small businesses to start and grow, from SCORE to the Small Business Development Center network to our women’s center, the Center for Women & Enterprise, plus so many other SBA community partners.”—Robert Nelson, District Director, U.S. Small Business Administration.
By Joy Jordan
Sometimes, the smallest touches can make the biggest difference.
This was the thought that occurred to Michael Heinrichs a little more than a year ago, while working on a condo remodel project in Duxbury.
He noticed that designers provide a beautiful product on the interior of a home, only for many of the amenities to be vented out on the exterior, in a manner that is not aesthetically pleasing. It was then that he realized there was a need for something better than what was currently on the market. And thus a new small business was created.
“I began thinking of ways to correct this venting issue,” says Heinrichs, “and Hide-A-Vent was born.”
Since then, the company has quickly taken off, and even been honored by local organizations.
Hide-A-Vent, located in Weymouth, offers an attractive way to hide residential vents, such as those for dryers and those for ceiling vents for kitchens and bathrooms. His proprietary product is available in two sizes – one for oven hoods and microwaves and the second for clothes dryers – and make external vents 99 percent invisible. In addition to improved aesthetics, the product also provides other benefits, such as energy efficiency, fire safety and protection from pests.
Hide-A-Vent has secured a distributorship with the wholesaler Rafferty, which supplies lumber yards in six states, including roughly 340 on the South Shore. Heinrichs is also working with several other companies and as his business grows intends to hire an outside sales force.
Heinrichs knows the homebuilding industry well − prior to launching Hide-A-Vent, he spent the last 35 years in kitchen and bath remodeling as a designer and project manager. His involvement has been with the customer from sales through design, offering one-stop design/build services.
That background allowed him to quickly hone in on a gap in the market, and find a way to fill that gap. However, this has been his first experience as an entrepreneur, and with that has come the need for a new set of skills – and a crew of advisors to help guide him through the process.
“I am not an engineer, so in order to move from concept to actual product took a lot of time and trial and error,” says Heinrichs. “Initially, I began altering standard vents to achieve what I was looking to accomplish. Once I knew that the concept was functional, it quickly became clear that I needed engineering experts, legal advice (including a patent attorney) and trusted business advisors to bring this idea to fruition. Being passionate about something is not enough. You have to be humble enough to admit to what you do not know. However at the same time, it is difficult to find honest, trustworthy advisors to help you through the obstacles of starting a new business.”
Along the way, Heinrichs has also found support from local business organizations.
“I was lucky enough to connect with so many resources through the South Shore Chamber of Commerce,” says Heinrichs. “The Massachusetts Small Business Development Center offers free business counseling, through the chamber, for new startup companies, or any small business that needs assistance. I found a fantastic business coach and trusted advisor, was given assistance in creating an engaging business plan, was welcomed in to a community of established business people, and was offered mentoring by local business leaders. These resources helped me get over the hurdles of creating a startup company from scratch.”
The Massachusetts Small Business Development Center is a partnership program with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Massachusetts Office of Business Development, providing free, confidential, one-to-one business assistance and free or low-cost educational training programs to prospective and existing small businesses throughout the Commonwealth. The MSBDC fosters the start, growth, and sustainability of small business by providing high-quality, in-depth advising, training and capital access.
In addition, the SBA works to aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small business concerns, to preserve free competitive enterprise and to maintain and strengthen the overall economy. It offers support in the form of education, advocacy, and access to funding.
“SBA has so many different programs and services that many do not know about,” says Robert Nelson, District Director for the SBA. “SBA loans, government contracting certifications and assistance, business training and mentoring to venture capital through SBIC’s plus grants through SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research), plus much more. Businesses and anyone interested in entrepreneurship should sign up for our email updates to learn about opportunities and to get connected. Visit sba.gov/ma.”
During Small Business Month, the SBA also honors small businesses around the country with awards in various categories, recognizing the strides that these companies have made in their industry.
“On May 2, during National Small Business Week, the MA SBA will be honoring small business and champions for what they do to build strong communities,” notes Nelson. “The awardees this year hail from the Cape to the Berkshires and represent entrepreneurship at its finest. McLane Research Labs from Falmouth is receiving an award as the MA Exporter of the Year, a business that has global reach and impact.” (See sidebar to learn more.)
The help and acknowledgement provided by these various organizations can be invaluable to a small business, especially one just starting out.
The South Shore Young Professionals, an affiliate of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, was so impressed by Heinrich’s plans for Hide-A-Vent that the organization named him as the recipient of its 2016 Foundation Grant.
“One of the many missions of the South Shore Young Professionals is to fuel the economic development of the South Shore through its Foundation Grant Program; our goal is to support entrepreneurship and encourage economic growth on the South Shore,” says Kaitlyn Litchfield, Executive Director of the SSYP. “We’re delighted to name Hide-A-Vent as this year’s recipient; it is a concept that has success written all over it!”
For Heinrichs, that grant from the SSYP made all the difference in the growth of his company – not just in the financial resources it provides but, perhaps even more so in the symbolic support of the business community that it offers.
“The grant from the South Shore Young Professionals was truly one of the most pivotal points in the progress of Hide-A-Vent,” says Heinrichs. “I applied for the grant at the encouragement of my MSBDC coach after her success of coaching the winner of the grant the previous year.
“Being selected as the winner was a game changer,” emphasizes Heinrichs. “My concept, and all of the time spent in product development, as well as the struggles that I faced creating a new business, suddenly became worthwhile. The fact that a panel of professionals recognized the potential success of my product, as well as the benefits that my company could provide to the local business economy, was validating. The financial benefit was pretty great as well.”
Heinrichs has earmarked the SSYP Foundation grant in the amount of $7,500 to set up an internal office and begin a public relations campaign.
As he moves forward with his business plan for Hide-A-Vent, he is still facing other ongoing struggles of entrepreneurship, such as financing, finding the time to promote the business and product (while still maintaining a full-time job) and production challenges, but Heinrichs says that the support and encouragement of his peers and business associates help keep the project moving forward.
In addition, he is looking to ally himself with a partner to help move the company forward.
“Hide-A-Vent is in the final stages of securing a partnership with someone who shares the same desire and excitement that I have about the product, says Heinrichs. “It will be this new partnership that will allow Hide-A-Vent to move successfully into production and distribution. We are anxiously looking forward to working with local manufacturers and distributors in order to get our product to the consumer. We believe that our success will help contribute to the growth of the local economy and business community.”
An entrepreneurial spirit can help guide small business owners through the rocky terrain that can come with any new company or product. It takes determination, bravery, and persistence to make those dreams a reality.
“I have learned that starting a new small business is not for the faint of heart,” Heinrichs adds. “There are many obstacles to overcome and it can be easy to get frustrated and discouraged. What I now know is that there are so many resources available to assist anyone who is willing to put in the time. There are also so many established business owners who are willing to help you succeed by offering advice and encouragement. By becoming part of a membership organization like the South Shore Chamber, and taking advantage of all that it has to offer, pathways to success are revealed that you might otherwise have overlooked.”