Eric Wendler is a business owner who carries his computer bag with him just about everywhere he goes.
Wendler, a Mount Airy resident, is the director of business development for Grant Thornton, an international accounting and consulting firm. He developed RetroStrap, a retractable shoulder strap that can be put on almost any type of luggage item, briefcase, or sports bag to make it easier for them to be carried without the long bag straps getting in the way.
Wendler is gradually bringing his business model to life. He came up with the idea about eight years ago and has since designed his own prototype and got a patent for the product as well.
“Every time I put my bag down, the shoulder strap would be there and I had to figure out what to do with it,” Wendler said. “I didn’t want it just laying on the dirty floor or have it trip me or someone else and going through airport security and things like that. … I just reached a point of frustration and did some research and there was no strap that I could buy to keep it out of my way that was retractable.”
Retrostrap is one of five finalists in this year’s Carroll County Biz Challenge, a “Shark Tank” style competition in which local entrepreneurs pitch business ideas, make connections, get publicity, and compete for a $5,000 cash prize and thousands of dollars worth of additional prizes and services. Sponsored by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, the event is in its ninth year.
The other finalists, chosen from 29 applicants are: Covalent Spirits, Dirigible Systems, Together Studios, and Willet Family Farm. They will compete in the live finale at 6 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 27, with contestants making their pitches to judges live at the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there will be no audience this year, but people can stream the event live at CarrollBizChallenge.com or watch it on Comcast channels 19 or 1086.
The pandemic has affected Wendler’s ability to increase a market of opportunity for RetroStrap, considering many employees have been working remotely for the past five months or so.
“I actually have a prototype on my bag that I take with me into the office every day and it worked great, but I’ve been here for five months and haven’t picked up my bag,” Wendler said. “My main market for this was the business traveler who has a computer bag, equipment bag, and that’s obviously been severely impacted.
“It’s one of those things where there’s more awareness of some of the benefits of this, but people may not need to use it right now as much as they used to.”
Wendler is working out of his home and said he would like to have RetroStraps made and manufactured in the Carroll County region. Should he win the Biz Challenge, that money would go to funding those purposes, he said.
Wendler hasn’t sold any RetroStraps because he wanted to do a proof of concept to make sure the product works. His children have been using them for their bags as well.
“It definitely does work,” Wendler said. “I need to figure out how to make a bunch of these and get them ready for sale. I didn’t want to put a “For Sale” sign out, so to speak, and not have inventory and not be able to get them to people.