National Entrepreneurship Month feature: Chris Wentz, Everykey
Hear from Everykey's founder and CEO Chris Wentz about his entrepreneurship journey turning a college dream into reality.
Every entrepreneur’s goal is to come up with a product or service that solves a problem for consumers. If you’ve ever lost a key or forgotten a password, the company Everykey, founded by COSE member Chris Wentz, has the solution for you.
Chris’s interest in small business and technology goes back as far as he can remember, but it was in his senior year at Case Western Reserve University that his journey to entrepreneurship really began. The professor of his entrepreneurial class asked students to present an original business idea—one that makes money, but that also solves a problem in the world and has an impact on people’s lives.
Chris pitched an idea for a wristband with the technology to unlock everything including your phone, laptop, car door and house—and that also stores all account passwords in one place. Chris knew he had a good idea, but thought it was an undertaking for a big company like Samsung, Google or Apple.
Little did he know that a handshake and an initial investment from this professor would lead to Everykey.
In the beginning, Chris and his colleagues competed in student business plan competitions—mostly through the university. They were fortunate to win several and received money, as well as the attention of potential investors. And perhaps most importantly, there was validation that their product was worth pursuing.
This traction led to prototypes and crowdfunding campaigns, which raised about $300,000 through pre-orders. They were also fortunate to be well-supported through local resources in the Northeast Ohio region, and then more broadly funded by several venture capital firms.
While the actual device may have changed a bit since ideation, the concept is still the same. The finished Everykey product impacts consumers by not only making their lives convenient and easier, but also more secure through its military-grade encryption.
What was once a college dream has become a successful small business.
Chris shares details of his entrepreneurship journey on COSE’s Small Business After Hours podcast. Here are three key takeaways from that conversation.
Takeaway no. 1: Cleveland can be the next Silicon Valley. Chris views Northeast Ohio as one of the best places to start a business. Most technology startups are created in Silicon Valley, and many believe money must be raised there as well. Chris says this close-minded mindset was more prevalent pre-COVID, but that because remote work is so ubiquitous now, that philosophy is changing.
In Northeast Ohio, the cost of living is far lower than on the coast, allowing companies to hire more employees for the same price. This is a top reason that Cleveland could become home to some grand-slam-type companies, Chris says.
Takeaway no. 2: There's no such thing as overnight success. Everything takes longer than expected—especially technology. The timeline from ideation to having a ready-to-go product was probably Everykey’s number one challenge, according to Chris. The complexity wasn’t in the hardware itself, but rather in developing the different apps required to work with all web browsers.
With a name like Everykey, the product must live up to the idea that it can be used everywhere and with all software, which Chris says meant developing from scratch each time.
As a result of investing so much time and effort into this technology, they are one of only a small handful of providers. And the hard work keeps paying off. Now that they own a patent for this unique technology, Everykey has become even more appealing to potential employees, investors and buyers.
Takeaway no. 3: Every company has moments of doubt; Never give up. One of the lowest points the Everykey team experienced was early on when they were told it wasn’t possible for their technology to connect with all platforms and software. But, with faith that there’s a solution to every challenge, they didn’t let their doubts determine their outcome.
Chris knows that without those challenges, they could not have developed such inventive technology, they would not enjoy the success they have today, and they would not be as well-poised to expand their product into commercial markets.
His parting advice for entrepreneurs?
“Even when the chips are down or it feels like all hope is lost, never give up. Continue to believe in your vision. Bust through the barriers people put in front of you and you will come out stronger in the end. We learned so much and created so much value out of the challenges we faced.”
Hear more about Chris’ entrepreneurial journey in episode four of COSE’s Small Business After Hours podcast.