There comes a point in time where you should reflect on how far you’ve come. The author, Ralph Waldo Emerson, said it best, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” With this being said, we like to view our business as a journey with never-ending innovation, creativity, and breakthroughs. From our start in early 2015, we’ve grown in unimaginable ways. With new filtration solutions, new teams, and new visions, we have an in-depth conversation with our President, Stu Miller, to discuss the past, the present, and the future!
We asked Stu to bring us up to speed on our humble beginnings. Under new direction at MANN+HUMMEL, decentralization of the Research & Development (R&D) department was occurring, and we needed something new. For the first time in MANN+HUMMEL’s history, we were getting into fundamentally new topics for research. A place was needed between R&D and series production and that place was i2M, otherwise known as Innovation 2 Market. Our many clients around the world know what i2M stands for, but now that we’ve shed light on the background of our name, it’s time to continue on with our story.
To start, MANN+HUMMEL selected North Carolina State University’s Engineering Campus for their new North American R&D Center. This relationship with a highly regarded engineering school allowed us to work with professors at the Nonwovens Institute in the development of new filtration solutions. This is when we started major commitments with North Carolina.
Since the late 1950s, our state’s Research Triangle Park (RTP) has grown drastically. RTP is the country’s largest research park situated between Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill, each with their respective research universities. That’s when Stu discovered Raleigh’s entrepreneurial district! He found a community of creative thinkers, innovators, and boundary-breakers. Networking together led us to a visionary developer who owned an old warehouse known as Dock 1053. As only the 3rd tenant in the building, we had a lot of work to do to create a space viable for our business: accelerating product development and exploratory business for MANN+HUMMEL.
Now the fun begins! We asked Stu to tell us about the first few stages of i2M in our new home of Dock 1053. He responded with, “It was HOT! Literally, a rented shipping container in the existing 1053 parking lot is where it all began. I was making ion exchange filters in the middle of hot and humid North Carolina summers. I bought a Honda generator to power the simple production equipment and a single fan. It was so hot that I remember my phone showing a temperature warning and then shutting down due to overtemperature!”
Once our space was finished at Dock 1053, with a separate office space built into the production floor, we were able to have our grand opening in late 2015. We created a racetrack on the floor and raced each other with a pallet truck! We’ve been “racing” to market ever since!
Fun fact: all of our ceramic manufacturing equipment was developed in house! Our ceramics process is highly confidential, which explains why you’ve never seen photos of that production line! It allows us to develop better quality ceramics for our water filtration line of products.
Fast forward to June 2020 and we launched TRI-KLEEN 500UV, a highly effective, portable air filtration device to combat indoor air quality around the globe. Stu has expressed how much TRI-KLEEN 500UV has pushed us forward and grown our business to what it is today. He compares us to a “functional teenager” in the phases of business.
We asked Stu to shed light on any products that he has an emotional connection to. He responded with a resounding, “Ion Exchange! I sweated over that thing! It was a technology and product line completely unknown to MANN+HUMMEL at the time. I ran the study and incubation phases while at MANN+HUMMEL and brought that knowledge with me at the start of i2M.”
Story Time: Cementing our Ion Exchange products in Stu’s heart was a trip to the Fuel Cell show in Tokyo, Japan. He built a handmade prototype and asked every potential customer he could find about what they needed in their industry. Given this 1 on 1 market research, we were able to do a complete 180-degree pivot on design, function, and specification in order to meet the needs of our customers That design is still what we produce today and now has a majority market share in the United States!
We now have 38 employees and a clear understanding of the business processes needed to execute the acceleration of new technologies. We also have 3 separate DBA’s (new ventures inside i2M Doing Business As) qlair, Streametric, and SenzitHD as brands under i2M! We give our ventures the safety net of organizational structures, systems, IT, HR, and other processes. This allows them to give complete focus to their mission, free of most foundational distractions associated with startups.
After almost 6 years of learning, failing, and succeeding, we’re now equipped with the knowledge needed to take us forward. The possibilities for expansion are exciting. We’re setting sights on growing and even duplicating this proven business model to bring more value to MANN+HUMMEL in the future.
Want to be part of the next chapter in our story? Feel free to reach out to us at info@I-2-m.com to explore the possibilities!