Colin Dowdle had an idea for a product he was sure could be a hit. Hard work — and some incredible valuable alumni advisers — made it happen.
By Guy Fiorita
Working from his cramped, shared Chicago apartment taught Colin Dowdle that the world needed a standing desk that could easily collapse to roll under a bed or sofa, so he decided to put his entrepreneurship major to work. He teamed up with his father, Jim, to design, fabricate and launch the Lillipad desk. As the young alumnus navigated a minefield of challenges to bring his innovative product to market, a host of experienced alumni took his cold calls, accepted his LinkedIn invitations and stepped in to help him over some big hurdles.
Laying a foundation
Before there was the Lillipad, there was Marquette nurturing Dowdle’s entrepreneurial ambitions. With encouragement and support from the entrepreneurship program of the College of Business Administration and the Kohler Center for Entrepreneurship in the 707 Hub, he grew his own startup business making backyard ice rinks and interned at another startup.
Dowdle sets up shop in his parents’ garage in Glenview, Illinois, in March 2020 to begin working on prototypes with his dad. After dozens of tries and countless trips to the hardware store, they have a functioning table.
To navigate the patent process, Dowdle turned to attorney Kevin McCormick, Eng ’10, Law ’14, whom he cold-called based solely on the Marquette badge on his LinkedIn profile. “From a drawing on paper, with Kevin’s help and understanding, Lillipad is now patented across four countries with many others pending,” Dowdle says.
Searching for suppliers
Dowdle engaged an industrial design firm to turn his DIY prototype into something manufacturable. Then, to find manufacturers to supply the parts, Dowdle solicited help from Tom Foust, Sp ’85, and Matt Umentum, Bus Ad ’85, alumni executives with experience manufacturing products in the Midwest. Their advice helped Dowdle manage quality expectations and identify domestic and international manufacturing partners to match countless needs.
It turned out only 5 percent of parts could be purchased off the shelf. And when manufacturing partners provided 3D-printed test parts, a trial assembly revealed the need to redesign nearly 90 percent of those components. A key ally in this and other stages, Marty Merrick, Sp ’85, CEO of Fuse Marketing, drew on his experience producing custom displays. They ordered dozens of versions of certain pieces until they had a manufacturable prototype.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, everything had to be adjusted upwards,” says Dowdle. Supply chain hurdles and inventory needs created a need for seed-round fundraising and a banking partner aligned with Lillipad’s goals. A warm introduction to Michael O’Rourke, Bus Ad ’90, CEO of Chicago-based Signature Bank, helped Lillipad meet its banking needs. Lillipad also closed a round of seed funding in early 2022 — $1.2 million, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Dowdle was then able to commit to manufacturing and purchasing inventory.
Building business infrastructure
Although experienced with smaller startups, Dowdle hadn’t tackled a venture this complex or scalable. Fortunately, he could rely on the advice of seasoned business professionals such as Umentum and Bob Weyers, Bus Ad ’87, Grad ’88. Through meetings at coffee shops, they gave him downloads on cash flow, operational finances, employee growth, asset management and organizational growth. “Matt and Bob shared a textbook’s worth of experience on the do’s and don’ts of running a business.”
Since debuting in June 2022, Lillipad is finding traction with companies aiming to support the productivity and wellness of their remote and hybrid workers. With its portability and no-assembly-required convenience, construction firms have found it a great solution for trailers on job sites. Dowdle is convinced he’d be nowhere near this far without his Marquette connections. “Having their experience is a dream for a young entrepreneur,” he says. “Without them, Lillipad would be nothing more than a cool business idea that I never pursued.”
- As developed by Dowdle and his team, Lillipad is a powered, portable workstation — sit-stand-store — for anyone who doesn’t have a permanent home office.
- The Lillipad ships fully assembled, supports two monitors and has three power outlets.
- A push of a button adjusts the desk to various heights — with safety features to protect pets and children.
- Dowdle custom-designed the X-lift style legs to be sturdy and to close flat. Wheels make it easy to roll the workstation to a favorite spot or store it under a bed.
- Visit lillipad.com to learn more.