Sudden Impact

Winning an IBEX Innovation Award can launch a company on a strong trajectory
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For Strex co-founders Brynn and Antoine McLeod, IBEX wasn’t just where they won their first award; it was their first trade show.

For Strex co-founders Brynn and Antoine McLeod, IBEX wasn’t just where they won their first award; it was their first trade show.

Strex Fasteners came out with its boat-cover snaps two months ago, and the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition and Conference in October was the company’s first trade show. When Strex received an Innovation Award in the covering category, it was a huge deal for the upstart enterprise.

“Especially coming from IBEX, which everyone in the marine industry knows and respects, it was incredibly important, and it gave us respectability right out of the gate,” says company co-founder Antoine Mcleod.

Strex Fasteners provide a real-world solution to the problem of shrinking boat covers.

Strex Fasteners provide a real-world solution to the problem of shrinking boat covers.

Mcleod and his wife, Brynn, started the company after the cover on their pontoon boat started to shrink, making it difficult to install. They came up with the Strex Fastener System, which has bungee-style extensions on traditional snaps that a do-it-yourselfer can install, or that boatbuilders, dealers or canvas shops can use. They’re sold in packs of 10 and 50. Brynn Mcleod’s father, an engineer, helped perfect the product design; her mother made the in-booth displays.

It’s not just newcomers like the Mcleods who see an IBEX Innovation Award as a potential boost for business. For the first time, more than 100 companies entered the competition, and awards were handed out in 15 categories, including inboard engines (Volvo Penta won for its D4 and D6 diesels); boatbuilding methods and materials (Teakdecking Systems won for the Lignia Yacht teak alternative); hardware and software (Cojali USA won for Jaltest Marine diagnostic testing gear); and paints and coatings (AkzoNobel won for its Awlgrip HDT topside finish).

Vesper’s Cortex combines VHF, 
AIS and DSC technology in one unit.

Vesper’s Cortex combines VHF, AIS and DSC technology in one unit.

Evinrude won in the outboard category for its 3-cylinder engine that’s available in 115- and 150-hp ratings. “That was great news not only for Evinrude, but all of BRP Marine,” says Tracy Crocker, president of BRP Marine Group, which includes Evinrude, Manitou pontoons, Telwater in Australia and Alumacraft boats. “Innovation in this industry comes with investment in time and resources, so to be recognized by the industry for our technology and how it performs is really a great accomplishment.”

The awards are judged by a panel of marine journalists from Boating Writers International.

Another husband-and-wife team, Ann and Cory Schaub at Lillipad Marine in Traverse City, Mich., celebrated their second Innovation Award, this time for the Revo ladder, a boarding ladder that can be mounted on a boat or a dock and can be moved easily. The ladder extends 4 feet into the water and folds to 16 inches when not in use. There are beefy rails, as well.

“The Revo ladder was designed because we wanted to make sure anyone could get on and off the boat,” says Ann Schaub.

The Schaubs say this year’s award helped them get noticed by the industry. “Our main focus is OEM, and it’s a huge attention grabber for the company,” Ann says.

Cory and Ann Schaub build two products at Lillipad Marine, and they’ve won Innovation Awards for both.

Cory and Ann Schaub build two products at Lillipad Marine, and they’ve won Innovation Awards for both.

It also reminds the industry about Lillipad’s other product, the pontoon-boat diving board, which won an Innovation Award at the 2015 Miami International Boat Show.

For U.K.-based Triskel Marine, which won in the electrical systems category at IBEX for its Integrel generator replacement technology, the award was the latest in a string of honors that included the 2018 DAME award at the Metstrade show in Amsterdam. The Integrel system is basically an extra alternator installed on a boat’s inboard to provide enough electrical power to replace a stand-alone generator.

The Schaubs’ Revo ladder is designed for use on any boat to make boarding easier.

The Schaubs’ Revo ladder is designed for use on any boat to make boarding easier.

In the safety equipment category, Vesper Marine of Auckland, New Zealand, won for Cortex. It’s a touchscreen VHF radio that incorporates a Class B smartAIS transponder. Cortex is the first product that can make a DSC call to another vessel the user sees on the screen. It also provides collision avoidance, anchor watch and man overboard functions, and vessel monitoring using cellular connectivity.

A common thread among most award winners is that their products answer a need or solve a problem. Dometic Corp. won in the mechanical systems category for its Turbo Global air conditioner and in the OEM electronics category for its E-Actuator for outboard steering. The latter eliminates the need for hoses, hydraulic fluid and pumps.

Teak Isle’s folding pontoon table doesn’t wobble like a pedestal-mounted one. 
When it’s not needed, it folds into the seat base.

Teak Isle’s folding pontoon table doesn’t wobble like a pedestal-mounted one. When it’s not needed, it folds into the seat base.

At Teak Isle Manufacturing, meeting a client request led to the product that won the furnishings and interior parts competition. “We were tasked by the pontoon builders to come up with better use of the areas in the back of pontoon-boat lounges,” says Pat Brown, president of Teak Isle, which is based in Ocoee, Fla. The company came up with a table made of King StarBoard polyethylene that folds out of the back of a pontoon lounge. It takes up just 4 inches of space when stowed, so there’s still room in the lounge for other items. A second table with bottle and glass holders clips into place on the fold-out table.

“Winning the Innovation Award and sharing that we won with our employees has brought a sense of pride and accomplishment to our whole company and energized our engineering department,” Brown says. “It also established Teak Isle as the go-to manufacturer of new pontoon storage solutions.”

After presiding over the Innovation Awards program for 18 years, Alan Wendt is stepping down.

After presiding over the Innovation Awards program for 18 years, Alan Wendt is stepping down.

Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based Mate USA was a co-winner in the mechanical systems category with Dometic. Mate USA’s UP8-RE is a reversible pump for oil and fuel. It can be installed in any position and can be used to drain fluid, then reverse direction to pump in fresh fuel or lubricant. The switch is built in and uses 12 volts, so it can be set up as a portable unit.

“What was really nice was to have that many people in the industry see our brand name,” says Charlotte Sundquist, vice president of sales and marketing for Mate USA. “Mate USA has been in the United States since 2010, so the exposure was welcome.”

Many Innovation Award recipients said 
winning drove more traffic to their booths.

Many Innovation Award recipients said winning drove more traffic to their booths.

PowerTech Propellers has won multiple Innovation Awards. This year, the company’s $70,000 Propeller Scanalyzer impressed the judges with its use of lasers to acquire the technical specs of a prop in minutes. For propeller shops or boatbuilders working on installations of multiple outboards, the ability to match propellers by laser is beneficial.

With the flexible base on the H20 Light Saver,  boaters don’t have to worry about breaking off an anchor light. 

With the flexible base on the H20 Light Saver, boaters don’t have to worry about breaking off an anchor light. 

Sometimes people need to be shown something before they realize its value. Such is the case with Roswell Global, which won in the entertainment category for its R1 Pro Tower Speakers with color-changing LED light-permeable housings. “We’ve always been a very design-heavy company, trying to think of the most integrated solutions to improve the experience on the water,” says chief operating officer Tyson Kochan. “Combining the senses is the next step for us, and it’s very rewarding for the industry to recognize that.”

One product in this year’s competition not only solved a problem, but also stepped up the quality of the accessory. Quality Mark’s H20 Light Saver, which won in the lighting category, is an anchor light that plugs into a traditional socket, but has a flexible base that bends. Instead of a plastic housing that has to be removed to replace the bulb, it also has an LED that improves visibility.

Evinrude’s new 3-cylinder outboards feature many of the high-tech systems of larger engines.

Evinrude’s new 3-cylinder outboards feature many of the high-tech systems of larger engines.

“Anchor lights are one of the most broken accessories,” says Mark Ebbenga, owner Quality Mark. “The increase in pontoon popularity has caused that to just skyrocket. You pull into your boat lift and forget to put it down, and you break it off.”

Regarding the recognition the award brings, Ebbenga says: “The exposure is huge; it’s everything. I’m not Mercury, I’m not Honda.” 

This article originally appeared in the November 2019 issue.

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