YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Electrical safety has been on John McDonald’s mind since he was young, after learning that his maternal grandfather died by electrocution in a work accident.
Today, he and his business partner, Joe Driscoll, are working on bringing to market their new electrical mounting system though their company, Easy Adapter Inc.
“It’s a really, really neat concept. We get a lot of great feedback on it, too,” McDonald says.
He and Driscoll are among the dozens of local entrepreneurs who navigated the challenges of the pandemic to launch a venture. They shared their experiences for this article, along with Devyn Bellamy of Geras Home Solutions; Amy Javens of Cycle Life Studio; Lindy Lauro of Lindy’s Lunch; Monique Davis of Beloved Guardians Home Health Care; Sara Lee Grandelis of Lotus Art Center; and Benjamin Warren of Big Benz Towing & Repair.
Creating a New Standard
McDonald and Driscoll envision their invention as potentially the new standard for electrical hookups.
The Cortland contractors and founders of Easy Adapter Inc., who use space at Brite Energy Innovators in Warren, began work in early 2020 on their interchangeable electrical mounting system.
Lights and appliances such as televisions affixed with their electrical connection adapters can be mounted on compatible wall-mounted electrical fixtures.
In addition to all the electrical connections being contained and not exposed, appliances using the connections can be easily removed when it’s time to paint walls, Driscoll says. Lights using them can be taken down to be cleaned and then put back.
After initial development, the partners received a provisional patent, which “gave us time to design and build it how we wanted it,” McDonald says. The company recently sent 18 prototypes to Underwriters Laboratories for testing.
The entrepreneurs say they faced a couple of challenges as they launched Easy Adapter, including a common one during the pandemic: shipping delays.
Parts for the adapters are being made in America but the molds they ordered were made in China.
“When they got shipped over, they got stuck at sea,” McDonald says.
The biggest challenge, though, has been securing capital, although discussions are underway with local investors looking into the company.
The partners are also in discussions with the Lowe’s hardware chain for use of Easy Adapter in its stores.
“Our vision is that one day, it will be a standard,” Driscoll says. “People will start putting these in the house in certain areas, like your living rooms or whatever, or your front porches and back porches. And they’ll be interchangeable. They won’t be stuck with that same old light that they had picked out in the beginning.”
Lindy Lauro hadn’t planned to open a business in one of the most challenging business environments an entrepreneur could face.
She had been running the food and beverage department at the New Castle Country Club before it came under new ownership and Lauro decided she wanted to move in a different direction.
She signed the lease March 11, 2020, for her new restaurant, Lindy’s Lunch, in New Castle, Pa.
“Then this COVID happened,” she says.
The pandemic put Lauro’s plans for Lindy’s Lunch on pause because permitting and construction weren’t taking place. The restaurant eventually opened June 11, 2020, with capacity restrictions.
“It was such a unique situation,” Lauro says. “We had to get the doors open and we just kind of went from there.”
With seating limited to 25% of capacity, takeout service – already a part of Lauro’s business model – was a mainstay for the New Castle restaurant.
“I have a takeout window. Fortunately, the business I operate does a lot of takeout to begin with,” she says. “So, the business model helped a little bit.”
The business also has benefited from a supportive community, helping it grow, although it’s “still not where I think it should be,” Lauro says.
The biggest challenges the restaurant has faced include lack of labor and, now rising food prices – a “trickle-down effect” of the issues stemming from COVID-19.
Still, she anticipates better times this year. She is looking to add online ordering, partnering with third-party delivery services and catering.
Geras Home Solutions
Devyn Bellamy of Youngstown founded Geras Home Solutions, which uses home-automation technology to improve safety in assisted living centers. He came up with the concept after his mother came to visit.
Staff at the Youngstown Business Incubator urged him to create a company and further urged him to participate in YBI’s version of “Shark Tank,” which was coming up in late October. Geras was its audience choice award winner and received $5,000.
His system is currently in the design phase. But the company consults on home automation and builds out custom systems for people’s houses, Bellamy says.
“The goal is for us to be able to use our own software to be able to do this,” he says.
“Things are progressing really well.”
The main challenge he has faced is “not knowing what I don’t know when it comes to running a business,” but credits YBI helping with that.
The key benchmark for Geras this year is to have a minimum viable product – or MVP – available to go to market.
“The biggest thing is the hub that communicates with everything,” he says. “The hub we’re creating not only would communicate with our devices, but with any smart home device, regardless of what protocol it works on,” he says. “So, if we get that across the finish line in 2022, then things are going to be amazing and that’s a conversation we’ll be having Q3.”
Cycle Life Studio
Amy Javens started planning to open CycleLife Studio before the pandemic. The triathlon coach and former professional triathlete had been working with JCL Development in Sharon, Pa., to renovate a space on Chestnut Avenue for her studio, which offers indoor cycling and other fitness services.
Javens had wanted to do something like this for years and was inspired by efforts of JCL and other entities to revitalize downtown Sharon.
“This was the perfect setup right here. It was exactly the square footage I wanted,” she says. “I loved the old building vibe.”
COVID hit and brought limitations on how fitness centers could operate. Then, when she was able to open, supply chain issues affected her ability to get bikes. Those began arriving in March 2021, around the time that vaccines started becoming available.
Following a soft opening in June, Javens had a grand opening in August. She says she is satisfied with how business has progressed so far. Summer, when indoor fitness centers typically are empty, was busier than expected. Conversely, while winter normally is a busy time for such studios, activity is lower because of the omicron variant.
Since opening, Cycle Life has expanded from having just one instructor – Javens – to 10.
“I’ve been in the fitness industry for a while and there’s nothing like having a community to help you become healthier and more fit,” she says. Even with the increase in virtual trainers, “People are still always going to want to be a part of a group and be part of a community.”
Beloved Guardians Home Health
The pandemic spurred Monique Davis to launch her company, Beloved Guardians Home Health Care, a tenant of YBI’s original building. Davis, who has more than 20 years in the medical field, says things were changing at the company she worked for, and numbers increasingly seemed to matter more than people – patients and employees alike.
Matters came to a head when she contracted COVID-19. Nervous about what effects she might suffer, she told her manager that she wasn’t returning to work until she felt completely better. The manager responded by asking her how long she planned to “milk” her illness.
“That showed me that she had no compassion. She didn’t care about me. She didn’t care about the other workers. She didn’t care about the patients,” she says.
The company she launched in November 2020 provides medication plan management, daily living assistance, house cleaning, laundry, meal preparation and running errands.
Davis admits business is a little behind where she expected it to be, which she attributes to staffing issues.
“Because I can’t get workers, I can’t service a lot more clients,” she says.
Assuming she is able to bring more employees on board, “2022 looks wonderful,” she says.
Big Benz Towing & Repair
Benjamin Warren has been in the towing and automobile repair field for pretty much his entire life, he says. Last year, he moved his wife, three children and business from New England to the city whose name he shares and where he is from.
“All my family lives here,” he says.
Big Benz Towing & Repair, which Warren operated in New Hampshire, marked its opening on U.S. Route 422 last September.
So far, his first year in business has gone as well as can be expected in a city like Warren, where the economy isn’t as strong as it is in New England. More people here have less money, which makes operating a business “a little tough,” he says.
But he is determined to “adapt and overcome.”
Even so, he says Big Benz is “right on track” to meet its targets.
“No matter what kind of pandemic or whatnot is going on, people still have to get around,” he says. “They’re always going to fix their cars. Their cars are always going to need a tow when they break down. Those are things you can’t get around no matter what.”
Lotus Art Center
Having art and a welcoming environment is important during times like these,” says Sara Lee Grandelis.
The owner of Lotus Art Center had always wanted to have a space for people to create and appreciate art, as well as to have access to supplies, materials “and wisdom if they want it.” Grandelis opened Lotus Art Center in the Warren Plaza on Elm Road in August, after returning to Warren from Colorado.
“Moving back here I just felt like it was doable,” Grandelis says. “I was living in such a rural place in Colorado that I just couldn’t make it work. Here, there’s enough people and it’s affordable to do things.”
The community art center features exhibit space, and studio time for artists and art classes. It offers “a welcoming, creative space just to be and enjoy,” she says, where people can come in and look at art or create art.
On a Friday afternoon in mid-January, the gallery was preparing to open a Random Acts of Artists show. Other artists who have been shown at Lotus include Terry Polonsky, Alex Infante and David Wheeler.
“We’re still growing [and] trying to get more people in the door,” Grandelis says. “We’re doing OK.”
The future is hard to predict. “We’re in the omicron variant right now and still dealing with delta,” she says.
She hopes Lotus can remain open to the public while allowing the possibility of a virus spike that might limit use to artists using it as a studio space.
“We would still survive and at the end still be here to open again,” she says.
Pictured at top: Devyn Bellamy and his Geras Home Solutions won a prize at YBI’s Shark Tank.