Looking up for entrepreneurial inspiration
Opportunity can be right under your nose, or in some cases, right above your head. It’s all in your perspective.
Shawn Engberg often claims his business is “looking up”. Literally.
It is said that “necessity is the mother of invention” and I imagine many great things were created as a result of this mantra. This world was built by people who thought outside the box and challenged the way we operate as a society. No idea is too small.
Shawn Engberg wears two hats professionally, entrepreneur and inventor. As the owner of Kearney restaurant Alley Rose for more than 20 years, he was inspired during a deep cleaning of his commercial kitchen. Abrasive chemicals got in his eye as he was attempting to remove grease and grime from ceiling tiles.
“How can I eliminate this arduous process?” he thought. He went home and started brainstorming. Sitting at his kitchen table, alone with nothing but the dim light and his creative thoughts, he reflected on his mother’s spring cleaning routine. Every year she would line her shelves with self-adhesive contact paper. By morning a prototype was created and Bio-Tile was invented.
Thousands of trials later
Six years later, through thousands of adhesives trials, that idea has evolved into Industrial Skins LLC, a Nebraska-based product design business that boasts a mission statement centered around being “Green and Clean” with Bio-Tile, an environmental multi-layer retrofit tile application.
“We are changing the way people are viewing the end life of a product,” Engberg said.
Bio-Tile consists of five layers of a recyclable protective non-porous surface that can be applied to existing or new ceiling tiles. If a layer is soiled, it can be removed as easily as mother’s contact paper, revealing a 100% contamination-free new surface, minimizing labor costs and enhancing the performance of existing lighting systems. Since Bio-Tile is made from PET, one of the world’s most recyclable materials, the discarded layer eliminates landfill waste altogether.
Bio-Tile is a cutting-edge way to minimize the carbon footprint of a commercial business, which led to a 2014 Kitchen Innovations Award from the National Restaurant Association. This nationwide recognition has taken Industrial Skins to a whole new level and applications are now everywhere from surgical rooms to laboratory environments.
Finding a home
The product is manufactured in a facility in Cozad, which sits in the shadows of a factory that closed in 2009, wiping out more than 500 jobs for the small community. That economic void and the leadership in Cozad’s commerce development drew Engberg there.
“If I could create one job,” Engberg said, “I knew I would be doing my part.”
Currently, Industrial Skins has a full time staff of four employees: one office manager and three fabricators, significant numbers for a town that has lost so much.
The company offers a variety of products to minimize the cost and labor associated with commercial ceiling maintenance. The Dust Deflector and GridMAX enhance the efficiency of Bio-Tiles. All Industrial Skins products are health code compliant and are sold through commercial distributors or available to consumers through an online store. Custom colors and screen printing are also available.
“Every business has a billboard they are not using,” Engberg said with an upward glace.
A collective effort
Bio-Tile encompasses much more than one man and his idea. Engberg said his company exists as a result of collaborative hard work, quality relationships and a consolidation of creative minds.
“This is a collective effort,” Engberg said. “If it wasn’t for the people I surround myself with, none of this would be possible.”
He gives credit to his Alley Rose family because he knows the restaurant is in the hands of talented employees while he focuses on these new endeavors. His restaurant business also introduced him to most of his initial investors and board members.
Work ethic and paying it forward
Besides the support of his wife and five children, other influences have helped Engberg succeed. His mother’s efforts were the source of his initial Bio-Tile idea but it was her work ethic that made the most significant impact on his life. Growing up in a small town in northeastern Nebraska, he watched his mother go from a hard-working waitress to restaurant owner. As a kid he washed dishes during his lunch break, and in his mother’s establishment he learned the business principles that followed him into his own self-made career.
He also learned the philosophy of paying it forward from a mentor who first offered Engberg assistance. In return, Engberg was expected to do the same and has held true to his end of the deal.
Engberg’s journey is the definition of invention. His kitchen accident created a product that is environmentally responsible, reduces labor and maintenance costs, and, most importantly, changes the way we think about an existing product and process.
Other ideas are in the pipeline. An old-school black and white composition notebook is filled with ideas. The future is bright for Engberg and Industrial Skins. As bright as a room recently outfitted with Bio-Tile. His story is not only about looking forward into the future, but about remembering to look up.