Start-up Stories

Artisan dog products

Artisan dog products

By:  Lara Merriam-Smith

Name of inventor/product developer: Kellie and Katya Szirom

Product: Artisan dog products.

Hometown: Bellingham

How to buy: Bellingham Whole Foods Market, Hohl Feed & Seed, Whatcom Farmers Co-ops, our website.

Contact information:


Two Terriers is a local family-run business that provides artisan dog products using minimal, natural ingredients that are

locally sourced in sustainable packaging. We use all human grade ingredients and do not add any dyes, artificial flavors

or preservatives. Our line of products include: 100% Pure Beef(heart, liver or kidney), supplement for dog and Organic

Castile soap shampoos


What was the problem you were trying to solve (or niche to fill) and how did you come up with the solution?

We have dogs and were very disturbed to find there are so many recalls on dog food products.

Our dogs are considered our family members, and we wanted to create a truly safe, nutritious supplement that

sourced from within WA State. We wanted to create a pure beef protein base that individual dog owners could

use to personalize and customize their own pets’ best diet.


What made you decide you wanted to take this idea to market?

When we started experimenting and giving samples to friends, we received positive feedback. The dogs loved

our product and their owners loved that they loved it! We spent a lot of time doing market research and

reading lists of ingredients. We hoped that our single ingredient with a single source was something that people

would want if given a choice.


What has it taken in terms of time, effort or expense to get the business up and running (or product on the shelf)?

We first had the idea for Two Terriers in June of 2014. Since then, it has been a slow process of researching and

getting all the certifications and paperwork in order. Right now we are focused on working with local business

to sell our products, which can be a slow process. While many of the buyers we have talked to like the product

by the time you work through all the administrative stuff it takes a while to show up on the store shelf. We are

also spending time doing local events to help get our product out there and meet folks who can help us spread

the word.


What was the biggest challenge you faced in the process?

Since we were starting a business for the first time, we had to do a lot of research! We spent a lot of time

looking up what licenses we needed and how to register our business. We also spent a lot of time researching

dog nutrition to educate ourselves and others about natural dog foods. It has also been a challenge to get our

name out there, as a small family-run business, we are self-funding our business and do not have the budget to

do a lot of advertising. We are finding out how challenging it is to your name out there! That is why we

encourage our customers to share our products with their friends and spread the word about our products.


What is the one piece of advice you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

If you have something you are passionate about and want to share it with others, find out what it takes to make

it happen and make it happen. The best thing is to try it out first and get feedback from people you trust.

Ultimately, if you believe in your product, do not let anyone else deter you from making it happen. A lot of it is

simply getting out there doing something each day to work towards your goal. It is a lengthy and sometimes

stressful process to get everything prepared for starting a business, but once you see your products on shelves,

it makes it worth the hard work.


*This piece originally appeared in the Bellingham Herald.


This monthly series is designed to introduce you to people right here in Whatcom County that invented products that

solve everyday problems. Invention is a process accessible to anyone with an idea and we need people with great ideas

to solve big and small problems. This series will introduce you to some everyday people, maybe even your next door

neighbor, who had a great idea and decided to do something with it.


Name: Claudia Hall

Occupation: Stay-at- home Mom

City: Bellingham

Invention: Bedpak

Description: A travel bag that lays flat to allow a place to store all of your items and provide a comfortable place to sit.

Also works as an organizing bag for emergency preparation (earthquakes, etc).



How to buy: Contact Claudia at


1. Every invention starts with a story – usually a problem to be solved, what’s your story?

“A few years ago, I was traveling by plane with my two young boys and, as happens often, our flight was delayed. Not

just a little, a lot, it went from a few hours to overnight. So there I was at the airport, I’ve got no good place to sit my

boys on either side of me. I’m trying to keep track of the luggage, keep my kids comfortable and get some rest. When I

realized I was going to have to stay like this all night, I thought – nope, I’m not doing this again – there has to be a better

way. Soon after arriving home I started looking around on the internet to find a bag that would work and couldn’t find

one. I knew it was up to me to do something about it. I started sketching some ideas and worked to find someone who

could make me a prototype. As that started coming together I realized, I didn’t really know what to do next and started

wonder if I really could do something about solving this problem.”


2. So despite not really knowing what to do, you went forward with it anyway. What was the biggest challenge

you faced in doing so?

“Fear. At first I was afraid people would think it was a foolish idea, then I thought if I do this I might fail, or succeed!

Either one was terrifying. However, I soon realized I had to focus on the end result, the good that this bag could do in the

world. And not just for travelers like me and my family, but in preparing for an emergency or even for the emergency

responders themselves.”


3. Now that you have come through and are on the other side, having learned about manufacturing and running a

successful crowdfunding campaign to help fund it, what is the one piece of advice you’d give to other aspiring


“Follow your dream. Don’t think about the fear or the outcome. It helps to realize quickly that you can’t do it alone. You

need to find the right advisors and support systems that will help you achieve that dream.”

Want to learn more about Claudia’s story? Visit her Facebook page for videos, pictures and more stories on her path to

producing this product.


*This piece originally appeared in the Bellingham Herald.
M.T. Totes

M.T. Totes

Inventors: Mary and Tom

Product: M.T. Totes

Hometown: Bellingham


Product: M.T. Totes – a clever play on words for a clever product. M.T. (Mary and Tom) as well as Empty, because they

are only empty until you fill them! Sustainable wooden beverage totes that come together without needing nails or



How did you come up with your idea?

“We were heading to a friend’s birthday dinner and had stopped by the market to buy a selection of different beers,

essentially building a unique six-pack. But a bag full of beer bottles as a gift just did not cut it. I wanted something that

would actually be part of the gift and remain long after the beer was gone- kind of like a gift that would keep on giving.

We played around with the idea and came up with a tote that is rather unique since it slips together without the need

for glue or nails. This also made it collapsible, which we thought would be great for display and shipping. Not to mention

it is fun: It goes together like a puzzle, except you won’t get stumped! After the first beer version, we needed a wine

one, then a coffee version and from there a whole fleet was born, including a 2-bottle growler which is our most recent



What made you decide you wanted to go forward with the idea?

“We originally gave them as gifts to friends and family and everyone really liked them.  People especially loved the way

they are put together, the sleek design, and how functional they are. You can carry a lot of different things in them. We

also felt that they are right in-line with the current trend towards reusable packaging. Living in bag-free Bellingham, it

seemed like a pretty good market in which to try them out. Another turning point was when a friend recommended

NWIRC to us. Getting solid advice and having an advisor was very encouraging in sticking with the idea. This past holiday

we were featured on the Today Show which was also very validating. They chose our totes amid a sea of similar products

on Etsy. This created a very busy 2015 Christmas Season, a full 2 years from the first bunch we made for friend and

family Christmas gifts in 2013. “


What did it take in time, effort and expense to go from idea to go from idea to prototype to market?

“The very first tote made was definitely a process. As simple as the finished product looks today, developing the design

and how it all fits together snug and secure took a lot of experimentation. We (Tom) probably played around with it in

our (his) spare time for about nine months before making the first bunch for Christmas gifts. Once we actually started

using them, we found we needed to tweak the design & make adjustments, mostly to accommodate different size

bottles. We started selling online the following spring laboriously hand-cutting pieces with a jig. Eventually, we were

able to have them made on a CNC Router, which helped reduce manufacturing time, but it wasn’t until we moved to

using the laser cutter at Bellingham’s Foundry Makerspace, approximately a full year later, that things began to click.

The laser became a game changer for how we did things, not only could we cut quickly and precisely, but it allowed us to

start doing personalized totes with any logo, name, picture someone wanted. Overall we’ve been fortunate to keep our

expenses low and test the market and making small quantities. However, we find ourselves at a very exciting point

where we are ready to take it to the next level and purchase our own equipment.”


Anything else you want to add?

“One of the great things that has happened is to hear that the totes are finding their way to handicapped, elderly and

nursing home residents. They are a great way to carry beverages from the dining hall or kitchen to other rooms of the

residence. Makes it easy for those with a cane or who feel unstable to transport their drinks without spilling.”


*This piece originally appeared in the Bellingham Herald.


Inventor/Entrepreneur: Matt Rose

Company: Apana

City: Bellingham

Where to find it:

Apana is the leader in automated water management for business. They save money for companies with their

patented hardware and software products that save water, reduce compliance risk and strengthen supply

chain and operational stability for their customers. Their complete water efficiency solution deploys

advanced technology and real-time analytics to pinpoint waste and deliver intelligence to the frontline for

immediate corrective action. Locally, the Chrysalis hotel recently installed the Apana system a part of their

commitment to their water conversation program.


How did you discover there was a problem in need of a solution?

I was working for a company in the wastewater treatment industry when one of our customers came to us and

asked for a solution to a compliance problem with buildings using more water than predicted. We built the

customer a custom solution and then realized that many other commercial building had the same problem.

Thus, Apana was born. iIt grew out of a need of a customer from an existing business.


What was the problem and how did you solve it?

The problem we were solving is around eliminating inherent waste that goes on within commercial buildings.

Once a commercial building is commissioned, the plumbing asset is no longer monitored. It’s behind the walls

and ceilings and there are hundreds of failure points, not to mention all the people who use it that don’t always

use it efficiently. What our product does is scan the whole system and where there is a problem our analytics

can pinpoint the problem and guide the customer to a solution to stop the waste.


What were the biggest challenges you faced in getting started?

The hardest part of what we do is getting the right kind of technology to do what we need. You’d think in 2016

that would be really easy with all the innovations in technology, but what we needed did not exist. We were

not satisfied with the off-the- self systems that were available and we made a decision to build our own. We

were lucky that we were able to find the right group of experts to develop our system.


How long did it take to get the first prototype to the customer?

A few months, we had some setbacks and had to go back to the drawing board two2 or three3 times to get it

right. As with most new product development in a new area, you start as a tinkerer and develop into an



How were you able to start growing from that first customer?

Our system was saving our initial customer over 20% on water consumption and paid for itself in a year – this

helped closed further sales. Positive results from those sales reinforced our value proposition. We then hired

an experience sales executive and started growing. Today we have ten10 employees and we’re hoping to

double that within a year.


What advice would you give to others who are just getting started?

Be flexible – realize it is an iterative process to create a product that will sell. Do not be afraid to pull the plug

on your past work, because a lot of times a better way will come up and you just have to let go of what you

have built – even if it took you a year to do it. We have seen companies that fall in love with their product while

the customer needs are neglected. Focus on customer’s needs and adapt your product to meet those needs.

Also spentd the time to get good advisors – especially in areas where you lack experience.


*This piece originally appeared in the Bellingham Herald.
Lessons from the frontline of entrepreneurship

Lessons from the frontline of entrepreneurship

I am constantly amazed to hear about the kinds of business that were started right here in Whatcom County. The

diversity is surprising, from Woodstone ovens, to Brenthaven bags, Homax products, Faithlife software and more.

Whether the business is destined to be a global powerhouse or a local favorite, there are lots of opportunities for

individuals thinking about entrepreneurship to take a chance. In order to find out what it takes to make a business

work, I sat down with two entrepreneurs, with very different businesses started right here in Whatcom County, to find

out what they had learned in the first few years and what advice they have for others.


Laundry is not something everyone thinks of when it comes to business but for Colleen Unema, who opened Q laundry

in June of 2013, it is all she has thought about for the past 4 years. I asked her what she did to get her idea off the

ground. “I went to hundreds of laundromats… I did laundry, asked questions, met owners, etc.” Colleen continued on

explaining how she turned that information into a plan. “I did a lot of thinking about the action items that would be

needed daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and over a decade to have a successful business – I created a map for each of

those time frames so that I would not get distracted.”


For Joel Townsen, inventor of the Flipout screwdriver, the startup path took a little longer, “I came up with the idea in

November 2003 and it finally hit store shelves in 2014…so eleven years -almost exactly.” The nature of his business was

different and required years of product development and prototypes to create an electric screwdriver that transforms

into 380 positions and gets into tight spaces.


No matter what type of business an entrepreneur is going to start; retail, wholesale, licensing, online, etc., there are

common things that every successful entrepreneur points to as imperative. From highly visible people like Mark Cuban

or Bill Gates, to local people like Joel and Colleen mentorship was listed 97% of the time as a key factor. “I could not

have done this without mentors.” Explains Colleen, “I cannot afford to make a bad decision that could cost this little

company – so I rely on mentors to give me good advice, teach me how to think it through or calculate it out.  I will never

ever ‘go it alone’ because too much is at stake.” For Joel mentorship was critical in the final stages of getting his product

off the ground. “It helps to talk to people that have already accomplished whatever it is you are trying to do. You can

only do so much on your own, and it’s great to have positive people to push you and encourage you.”


In addition to finding valuable mentors, Colleen has some advice for those getting started. “Write a business plan B.  No

joke. I wrote two plans, one that I was absolutely certain was as close as I could get without real numbers and

no comparable in the same industry – then write a Plan B for a couple of the variables that have the potential to tank

the business…because just maybe you need to run the business differently than you planned in Plan A, and you

need to know you can still pay all your bills.”


For Joel, the advice is simple, “ If you have a vision in your head of something really cool, go after it… there’s nothing

more exciting and rewarding than turning awesome ideas into reality.”


*This piece originally appeared in the Bellingham Herald.
Flipout Screwdrivers – Start-up Story

Flipout Screwdrivers – Start-up Story

Inventor: Joel Townsen

Product: Flipout Screwdrivers

Hometown: Bellingham

Where to get them: Lowe’s and

Description: A versatile, rechargeable multi-tool that fits into tight spaces with a rotating head with more than 350



What problem were you trying to fix and how did you come up with the solution?

“I came up with the idea back in 2003 while trying to replace a speaker in the door of my car. The drill I was using

wouldn’t fit inside the door panel and the idea hit me: why not invent an electric screwdriver that transforms into

different shapes? Power tool companies had been making the same type of products for years – large bulky drills that

were difficult to use in confined spaces and offered no versatility whatsoever. I thought if I could incorporate the

flexibility of a robotic arm into an electric screwdriver I would be on to something. The first prototype was built using

pieces of acrylic for the housing and plastic gears I got out of a robotics mail-order catalog. It wasn’t anything fancy, but

it worked and gave me a sense of excitement that drove me to push forward and keep trying harder. “


What did it take in terms of time and effort to go from idea to getting it to market?

“It took me nearly ten years to get this product to market and a tremendous amount of effort. I ended up dropping out

of school in order to work full time, usually 60 plus hours a week to fund my dream. Any spare time I had was often

spent working on the latest prototype. The product was fairly involved and had numerous parts. I spent years perfecting

it until it actually worked. On top of this, everything was super expensive – patents, prototype parts, CNC machining,

injection molding, trade shows, marketing materials – you name it! It all cost money.”


Your path to market was a little different than most since you licensed it – can you explain a little bit about how the process worked for you?

“Licensing is basically where another company makes and sells your product, in return you get a percentage of the net

profits. It’s a good route for inventors who have a great product idea but aren’t sure how to go about manufacturing it

themselves or how to deal with retailers. For me, landing a licensing deal was extremely difficult. I took part in trade

shows and contests, applied to present my product on Shark Tank, and pitched every company under the sun trying to

secure a licensing deal. The turning point for me was after I launched the product through crowdfunding -after the

campaign ended, I received several emails from big name power tool companies who were interested. In the end, I

hooked up with a manufacturing company out of Seattle and together we pitched Lowe’s for a DRTV deal. Before I knew

it, Flipout had its own TV commercial and we sold hundreds of thousands of units in a matter of months. “


What was the biggest challenge you faced and/or the one piece of advice you would give to other aspiring inventors?

“The biggest challenge I faced was overcoming the enormous costs involved with prototyping. When I started this

project, affordable desktop 3D printers were not readily available. Since I was designing a hand-held power tool, I went

through a lot of different variations to make it work properly and fit comfortably in the hand. Nowadays, I just print the

parts on my 3D printer and it costs me $1-2 per part, as opposed to $50-100 per part.”

“My advice to any aspiring inventor is to take that first step and build a prototype, even if it’s made out of cardboard…

the point is we all have to start somewhere. Anything that will help you get a sense for how a product looks, feels, and



*This piece originally appeared in the Bellingham Herald.

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