June 10, 2005

Twelve firms share $40,000 in prize money Pillow Shop captures business plan contest

by Tom Woolf

southern angles news

Caption follows story

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Pillow Shop, a Carterville business that cleans, restores and sells custom-made feather pillows, is the winner of the third annual Southern Angels Business Plan Contest.

Owner Vivien Ansinelli today (June 10) accepted the $15,000 grand prize during a news conference held at Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center.

Carbondale businessman and contest co-sponsor Peter Gregory, state and SIUC officials handed out $40,000 to 12 existing or start-up firms. This year's contest drew 51 entries from Illinois' 39 southernmost counties in technology, manufacturing and service categories. Judges narrowed the field to 12 finalists, and each finalist received a minimum award of $500.

SouthernTECH and the Southern Illinois Entrepreneurship Center, both programs within SIUC's Office of Economic and Regional Development, are the other co-sponsors. Gregory is a 1984 SIUC graduate and owner of the Carbondale investment firm Humid Town Ventures LLC.

The goal of the contest is to encourage entrepreneurial spirit and creation of high-quality jobs in existing or proposed businesses with significant technology components. Enhancing economic development in the region is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

First-place winners in each category received $5,000; second place, $3,000; and third place, $1,000. Angel investors may make as much as $250,000 in equity financing available to the grand prize winner and several finalists.

The prize money awarded to The Pillow Shop included $5,000 for finishing in a first-place tie in the service category.

Ansinelli grew up with feather pillows, and when she learned that a Carterville family that had run a pillow cleaning business no longer offered the service, she jumped at the chance to buy the needed equipment. She opened her doors in April 2004. Initially she focused on building a local customer base. But, after researching the bedding field and niche market possibilities, Ansinelli is expanding her product line – including a travel pillow with a case – and marketing her cleaning services and pillows nationally – and beyond. QVC Korea is considering the Pillow Shop's product line.

"I believe in what I am doing, I have a great product and service to offer, and I believe the sky is the limit," she said.

Here's a look at the rest of the finalists, by category:


• Blue Sky Vineyard, first-place tie: The goal of this start-up business, located south of Carbondale, is to develop a premiere tourist attraction for visitors enjoying the beauty of the Shawnee National Forest. Owner Jim Ewers plans a professionally maintained vineyard with tours of the wine production facility, and is cultivating relationships with Illinois producers and artists by developing tourism linkages.

• Midwest Medical Practice Management, Inc., third place: The business offers full-service practice management to established and new physicians, from start-up to ongoing billing and collection services. Currently located in SIUC's Small Business Incubator, owners Rose Cartwright, Sue Endres and Karen Shull are experiencing significant growth and plan to move to their own commercial headquarters later this year.


• Wiechert Seed Co., first place: Established in 1986, the company processes locally grown soybeans at facilities in Nashville and New Baden. Owner David Wiechert said product lines include commercial livestock feeds and soy oil products that the company ships nationwide. The firm is expanding its soy oil product line into the international market.

• Dinger Bats, LLC, second place: Randy Drone and his son, Kyle, manufacture high-quality customized wooden bats for customers from the major leagues to little leagues. The Ridgway company will launch a comprehensive baseball equipment product line later this year.

• So ILL, Inc., third place: SIUC graduates and brothers David and Daniel Chancellor of De Soto manufacture and market innovative indoor and outdoor rock climbing grips for enthusiasts of all ages. They are developing an apparel line and other retail products.

• Heartland Contractors, finalist: The Herrin firm is starting a new division that will fabricate a new roofing product and will later develop other safety-oriented products for the construction industry.


• Clipius Technologies, first place: The company uses a "think-tank" business model and provides high-tech solutions in application areas including biomedical, defense, homeland security and the aerospace industry. Product lines include hardware, software and service solutions. Principals in the firm, headquartered in Murphysboro, are Ajay Mahajan and Tsuchin Philip Chu, both professors in SIUC's Department of Mechanical Engineering and Energy Processes; Dr. Brad Schwartz, associate professor of urology at the SIU School of Medicine in Springfield; Dr. Sumeer Lal, a neurosurgeon practicing in South Carolina; and Dr. Jayant Nath, a cardiology fellow at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

• Fluid Measurement Technologies, Inc., second place: Founded in 1998, this firm supplies instrumentation and measurement services to analyze contamination in high-purity water, a vital service for the semiconductor and pharmaceutical industries.

• Microlution, third place: The Glen Carbon firm developed new micro-manufacturing systems that are many times smaller and less expensive than existing equipment.

• Interactive Video Sports, finalist: This Carbondale start-up firm will market proprietary software designed to train rapid recognition skills in a variety of sports, including baseball, softball, tennis and other racquet sports, hockey and soccer.

• Advancement Technology Partners, finalist: The Carbondale company helps educational institutions and non-profit organizations effectively manage information.

(Caption: Contest winner – The Pillow Shop in Carterville won the grand prize in the third annual Southern Angels Business Plan Contest. Announcement of the winners came today at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center. Pictured are (from left) Emily Carter, director of the Southern Illinois Entrepreneurship Center; Larry Woolard, director of downstate operations, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity; Pillow Shop partners Amy Simpson and Vivien Ansinelli; and angel investor and Carbondale businessman Peter Gregory.)

Photo by Russell Bailey