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Business Observer Friday, May 5, 2017 2 years ago

Front Lines

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A firefighter-turned-entrepreneur learned a key lesson in product development: Be willing to shift — quickly — to new markets and uses.
by: Ted Carter Contributing Writer

Keith Grant left the recent Venture Pitch SWFL forum in Punta Gorda having made a case that old-school tool manufacturing and 21st century technology go together like a firefighter and fire hose.

Grant, a former firefighter who founded North Port's Frontline Equipment Technologies LLC four years ago, also left with $30,000. He will use the venture capital to help him consolidate shops he has in Murdock Village, Charlotte County and in south Sarasota County in Venice.

Production under a single roof will help Grant boost production and increase marketing of his two main tool categories - HydraSpear Equipment Systems water-jetting nozzles and GatorFloss stainless steel-wire cutting saws. The investment will also help Grant do more of his own machining.

“We're just going into a different level,” says Grant, who expects to add more private investment to the $30,000 from Venture Pitch.

Frontline is a departure of sorts from the software, internet and e-commerce companies that usually inhabit the world of early-stage ventures, says Timothy Cartwright, chairman of Naples-based Tamiami Angel Funds, a co-sponsor of Venture Pitch SWFL. “Frontline is maybe more old school in that they actually make a product that you can touch and feel,” Cartwright says.

And Grant made sure the judges could do that. He helped Frontline distinguish itself in the Venture Pitch competition by assembling one of his products as he made his pitch to a panel of judges.

The night before the event, Grant assembled a prototype of one of his HydraSpear products, carried its parts in a bag onto the forum stage and proceeded to put the parts together. When done, he presented the 7-foot SaberSpear.

The firefighting tool has fireproof extenders and a penetrating nozzle that applies a high-pressure water flow inside a fire without the firefighter having to get too close. The SaberSpear, headed to market this spring, can also be equipped with a cap that allows a striking tool to drive underground to saturate subsurface fires.

“Showing that product made a great impact with the judges,” Cartwright says.

Grant, who left a career as a Providence, R.I., firefighter for medical reasons in 2003, launched his company to make tools for fighting fires and for cutting drivers out of crashed cars. He discovered that with slight modifications, the products could have multiple uses.

For instance, the HydraSpear tools can be modified for piercing tools in marine work, among other uses. “They picked up the HydroSpear and ran with it,” Grant says of the marine industry. “It helps them with setting pilings and building seawalls.”

Utilities companies, he says, like HydroSpear tools for their precision boring, and drainage contractors like them for clearing drainage paths.

The GatorFloss saws use stainless steel wire cables to cut through aluminum, brass, copper composites, wood and other nonferrous materials. They are useful for disaster rescue teams, Grant says.

Grant has spent thousands of dollars developing and testing steel nozzles for the HydroSphere tools. He recently partnered with Englewood-based 3-D printing company LiteWorld LLC, which helps him save on costs.

Frontline employs two engineers. One is a specialist in fluid dynamics and the other software development. And a new executive addition is Bill McCabe, a retired CFO and CEO of a manufacturing company who worked with Frontline during a 13-year stint as a SCORE volunteer. McCabe retired from SCORE to serve as Frontline's CFO.

McCabe says he falls into the category of retired executives not easily impressed. But Frontline impressed him enough to go to work for it, he says.

“I have seen a lot of different kinds of businesses and have a pretty good feel for their potential,” McCabe says. “I am impressed by their products and the market potential.”

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