Andrew Williams moved to Wilmington in 2014 and founded Elite Innovations with the vision of creating opportunities for technology designers and engineers in the area. But after four years of operations, Williams decided to close the company in October and is now pursuing other entrepreneurial efforts.
Elite Innovations, a product development company, had three years of solid growth, Williams said.
“We got up close to the seven-figure range. I've paid employees and local contractors roughly $700,000 in the past three years. I was really happy with everything that went down,” Williams said. “After a while, the lack of tech talent in the area became so difficult to keep positions filled and the turnover rates were so high.”
Other than Elite Innovation and New Potato Technologies, a technology and product development company, there were no opportunities in Wilmington for STEM-type occupations, Williams said, making it hard for the city to sustain tech talent.
“Software programmers come in all sorts of disciplines. So, there's plenty of folks around here that can do a website for you, but we're designing end-to-end internet of things solutions,” Williams said. “I needed folks that were good at back-end web services, user interface and user experience (UX) design, so that's who we hired. And aside from these projects, there were no other reasons for them to be here. So, they all moved to places where they can work like Raleigh, Durham, or anywhere else.”
Another reason that partially influenced Williams’ decision to close was Hurricane Florence in September of last year.
“When the hurricane came, my manufacturer inland was flooded and the post office in town shut down,” he said. “Half the orders that I placed from my manufacturer showed up; the rest didn't. I had a backlog of about 45 days’ worth of online sales I had to get through. I had stopped sales and at that point, I just gave up.”
The company, which had an office in the Murchison Building at 201 N. Front St., developed products for clients and had its own products, including TailGator, a truck bed extension system, and TacLace, a tactical boot lacing system which Williams said supported the company.
“My company was primarily funded by my products,” Williams said. “TacLace, for example, was a product I've had on the market since 2012. It's been my livelihood and it funded Elite Innovations all the way through the end.”
Williams will now be starting a new journey with a business in a new city.
“I just got recruited to CEO a new company in New York City, so I'll be out of here probably by the end of the year,” Williams said. “It’s a company called Convoyer, it's a service-based business in which we provide military veteran travel companions to elderly folks that face obstacles while they're in routes from point A to point B.”
He said the company plans on conducting a pilot in Q3 of 2019 and launching the full business by the first quarter of 2020.
Williams has been working on his side project and hobby -- making and selling accessories for Onewheels, self-balancing electric skateboards.
“It's a very small market. As I said, it's a hobby,” Williams said. “I do enjoy doing that and I'm still filling orders and making new products. But that's not intended to be a business by any means.”
Williams plans on continuing to sell Onewheel products after he ventures to New York City.
“We did a lot of really cool stuff, we did a lot of cool products, but after a while, it just boiled down to this is not the right fit,” he said about Elite Innovations. “It took five years for me to make that decision.”