Sometimes a competitive loss can lead to a promising win.
Business partners Adrian R. Cornish and Nathan M. Roy lost the competition for first place in the Baton Rouge Entrepreneurship Week Pitch Night competition in November.
First place carried the possibility of a $1 million investment from one of the five judges.
“What were they thinking?” Cornish asked recently from behind a big smile.
Some of those judges, however, were intrigued by the bionic resistance suit Cornish and Roy paid local personal fitness trainer Akili Baruti to demonstrate that night.
Cornish explained how the compression suit, weighing less than 3 pounds, could exert hundreds of pounds of pressure on the large muscles of a person’s legs and arms during either exercise or normal workday activity.
“Nothing compresses like neoprene,” Cornish said of the suit’s soft, synthetic rubber shirt and shorts. Horizontal latex bands of interchangeable strengths surround the thighs and can wrap the arms.
While Cornish and Roy answered judges’ questions at the Shaw Center for the Arts in November, Baruti remained in constant motion over a period of about 15 minutes — an impressive and exhausting performance.
Baruti said he grew up in Michigan and played cornerback for both Pasadena City College in California and the old Bossier-Shreveport Battle Wings of the Arena Football League.
As a personal trainer in Baton Rouge, Baruti said his clients have included everyday people, doctors, lawyers, LSU linebacker Kendall Beckwith and the recipient of last year’s Oscar for best actor, Matthew McConaughey.
Baruti’s muscular physique was a good fit for Cornish’s plans for Pitch Night.
Cornish emphasized, however, the suit also can be tailored for women and men who need to begin their exercise programs with compression bands that exert pressure as light as 5 pounds.
After the Pitch Night competition, Roy and Cornish met privately with the judges. One of those judges invested money in the dream that has consumed the partners for several years.
“That’s who we got our funding from,” Cornish noted. Both he and Roy, though, declined to identify the judge-turned-investor. Nor would they discuss the terms and amount of that investment. Both said the investor prefers that all details of their agreement remain confidential.
The attention-grabbing performance at Pitch Night also helped their company — Apex Resistance and Conditioning — gain an incubator home at the Louisiana Business and Technology Center on an LSU satellite campus, 8000 Innovation Park Drive.
“The incubator has been instrumental in our success so far,” Cornish added. “There are so many resources in one spot here.”
“Their story here is amazing,” said Matthew Wiggins, manager of the LBTC’s ProtoStripes office for support and development of incubator firms’ marketing prototypes. “Adrian hand sews his prototypes. Can you believe that?”
“Well,” Cornish said, “it’s really hard to get someone to do (exactly) what you want them to do.”
Wiggins said he has never seen an incubator company move faster from prototype to production.
Now, the company’s first load of 300 compression suits has arrived from China, and the partners await receipt of another 1,700 over the next 60 days. The suits will retail for about $150.
Roy said they plan to market their early production to area fitness centers, sporting goods stores, high schools and any business people who travel a lot.
Wiggins said there may be other important markets.
“They’re working with people to see if the suit offers help for physical rehabilitation,” Wiggins explained.
Cornish said they’ll target Zumba class participants, triathletes, joggers and bicyclists.
People who work out with free weights also are on the list of potential customers.
“This suit gives you that resistance without pressing down on your joints,” Cornish said. “Everything you can do with free weights, you can do in this suit.”
The partners met about three years ago, when both were employed at a local funeral services company, Roy said.
Since receiving funding from their investor, however, both partners have worked only on their company.
“We’re both all in now,” Roy said.
Cornish grew up in Nassau, The Bahamas. He ran the 200-meter and 400-meter dashes for his high school track team and for Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Florida.
An injury, however, ended his collegiate track career his sophomore year, Cornish said.
Though he graduated in biology and pre-med, Cornish said he always wanted to develop his own business. He never entered medical school.
Roy said there were no exotic islands or sports in his past.
“I’ve pretty much been in 70810 my whole life,” said the 2003 graduate of Woodlawn High School.
Kidney problems ended any hopes for sports glory when he was about 12, Roy said. At 18, just weeks before he entered LSU, his kidneys failed, and he began life-altering dialysis treatments.
Three transplant operations later, Roy remains on regular dialysis treatments.
Despite those operations and treatments and 30-hour workweeks at a fast-food franchise, Roy earned a degree in general studies from LSU in 2010. He said he concentrated his efforts on courses in business, political science, leadership development, sociology and communications.
“I am kind of proud of that degree,” Roy said. “Adrian kind of saw that in me.”
Roy said his role in the company is that of a bookkeeper, while Cornish pushes his suit toward sales.
“I’m really good with numbers and good with computer systems,” Roy said. “Adrian doesn’t see obstacles. He doesn’t see walls.”
Cornish said he believes in Roy because Roy believed in his suit.
“I showed it to this guy,” Cornish said of Roy. “Two days later, he said, ‘I can’t stop thinking about your suit.’ ”
“That was my eureka moment,” Cornish said. “I thought to myself: ‘This is my guy. This is my partner.’”
Roy said he was drawn to Cornish’s suit because it provides its user “the ability to do what you already do while performing a workout.”
Baruti confirmed he can wear the suit and perform thigh exercises while seated at a desk and completing paperwork.
Endorsements and sales are what Cornish craves now. He figures the sales will come soon, and he has bagged an impressive endorsement from Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie.
Ferguson-McKenzie competed in five Olympics for The Bahamas. She won a silver medal in the women’s 4x100-meter relay in Atlanta in 1996. In 2000, she won a gold medal in the same event in Sydney. And she won a bronze medal in the women’s individual 200-meter dash in 2004 in Athens, Greece.
While she was a student at the University of Georgia in the 1990s, the sprinter won four NCAA championships, combined, in either the indoor or outdoor 100-meter and 200-meter dashes.
Today, Ferguson-McKenzie is sprints and hurdles coach for the women’s track team at the University of Houston in Texas.
She says on the Apex website that Cornish’s suit is a winner.
“After training with it, it’s a possibility I could make a comeback in 2015 … if I was the only one who had it for the off-season,” Ferguson-McKenzie added.
“She took wind sprints in the suit, and she said, ‘I am on board,’ ” Cornish said. “I always wanted to develop something. This is it.”