Kick Things Up a Notch


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Meet Danny. He’s managing director and co-owner of VistaTek in Stillwater, Minnesota, a second-generation, family-owned, custom manufacturer that today provides moldmaking and injection moldmaking services, as well as secondary operations such as decorating, packaging and assembly. However, when I first heard of VistaTek, it was focused on rapid prototyping and tooling. In fact, when I met Danny, he and his father were doing a presentation on dispelling the myths associated with rapid tooling. A few years later, I invited Danny to lend his insight and expertise to MMT by serving on our editorial advisory board. Since then, the company has changed its focus completely by selling the additive manufacturing portion of its business to focus on its moldmaking and molding divisions. That’s how Danny works. He follows the trends, thinks outside the box and collaborates with a team to make things happen. 

And now he’s taken his passion for manufacturing, plastics, marketing, education, community and the environment, and injected it into a new project: the development of a new line of products and a new company to go with it. SelfEco is owned and operated by Danny and his brother Al. 

Danny says it all started with a trip to a “green” conference. He attended such an event to look for new business opportunities where his competition was not looking. This event comprised 300 material compounders, scientists and people from academia, but no manufacturers that could actually make a product. Right then, Danny decided to be the manufacturer for such a group and develop products around their materials. He returned home, presented the concept to his team, and development began. SelfEco was born. The first product was an industrial compostable pot with plant food built into the pot walls, so it provides constant nutrition for plants.

First, Danny had to learn about the material the company would use to produce this pot, because it is so unique. SelfEco did tons of R&D with a prototype tool and ran its Makerbot 3D printer constantly. The company spent five months learning proper gating, venting, cycle times and mold temperatures to prove out this concept. 

This product proving to be a really solid concept, but it also was quite a disruptive technology to the current marketplace. Danny quickly discovered how difficult it is to bring disruptive technology to the market with typical funding sources, and blocks in retail and distribution space. He had to find other avenues of funding outside of traditional banks or investors. Time to think outside the box again. 

Enter Kickstarter, an online resource to help inventors find the resources to make their ideas a reality. Kickstarter also can be a great market research tool, providing publicity and awareness about a product or cause. And, get this: Kickstarter wants to see you succeed, because it doesn’t make any money unless you reach your funding goal. SelfEco’s Kickstarter campaign launched last month and is still underway. Check it out at short.moldmakingtechnology.com/selfeco. You can not only see the company’s cool product, but also how Kickstarter works.

By nature, moldmakers are producers, problem-solvers and inventors. Maybe it’s time for you to actually make that unique product solution you have rolling around in your head. Kickstarter can help. And it’s not just an avenue for new ideas, it’s a vehicle for new business as well. Danny says his company has landed projects from people who have obtained funding on Kickstarter themselves. Think about it. Someone has an idea, he or she gets the funding but doesn’t know how to actually make the product. But you do! By the way, if Danny gets the funding he’s seeking, he says he’ll be considering outsourcing higher cavitation molds (eight cavities or more) to a local mold shop. For future business or your next project, you might want to consider kicking it around on Kickstarter.