If it weren’t for Cleveland’s Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET), Berea resident Tom Fowler would still just be a guy with an idea. He wouldn’t be anything close to what he is in fact today: an entrepreneur with a product poised to burst onto the market.
If he hadn’t learned of or submitted to MAGNET’s “Mspire” pitch competition last year, his concept for a multipurpose fitness device would still be rolling around inside his head. As it turns out, however, he won, and now his “Rippin Roller” is a real object that soon could be rolling instead into living rooms, basements, and fitness studios everywhere.
“They opened me up to all this knowledge,” said Fowler, one of five winners in the 2020 competition. “They took me from aimless to a strategic plan of attack.
“I wouldn’t have sold anything without them…These guys have a great thing going on. The potential for Cleveland is huge.”
Fowler, a coach and fitness instructor in a west-side suburban school district, had his “Aha!” moment while foam rolling. Instead of just ironing out muscular kinks, he thought, wouldn’t it be neat if the roller also had handles that let him work his abdominals?
That idea alone resonated with the manufacturers, patent lawyers, and other professionals who judge for Mspire, said MAGNET director of startup services Alec Simon. What really impressed the group, though, was Fowler’s openness to the suggestion of adding clips, to which elastic bands can be attached, thereby greatly expanding the roller’s utility.
With the bands as a source of resistance, the Rippin Roller transforms from a primarily therapeutic device into a multifunctional strength machine enabling one to perform weighted squats, presses, and a wide range of other lifts. It’s particularly useful to those on a budget, who travel regularly, or with limited space.
“I like the multitude of different things you can do with it,” Simon said. “That’s so critical, when a person can identify a real problem and then go out and solve it.”
At the moment, the Rippin Roller is still in development. Since his Mspire victory, Fowler said he’s only made and sold about a dozen copies, at $150 apiece, and most of the work has been done by a 3-D printer. (All but the bands and an aluminum bar through the center are made of plastic.)
The holdup is a rival on the market. Soon after he commissioned his first rollers, Fowler said he discovered a somewhat similar product by a global fitness brand. He has a provisional patent on his roller, but with help from MAGNET, he’s now attempting to obtain a product license and leverage his coaching experience to teach virtual classes using the roller. He’s also in touch, he said, with various other brands and manufacturers, exploring the viability of mass production.
His goal in any case is to share the Rippin Roller – or some version of it – as widely as he can. A former high-school football player brought back to healthy action by fitness after a devastating injury, he now wants to offer that same lifeline to others.
“I look at it like it [fitness] saved me, and now I want to help as many other people as possible,” Fowler said. “That’s been my major goal. I was put here to train people. I like to see people succeed.”
Simon said MAGNET feels much the same way. When his group selects a project to support, he said, it does so with the intent of seeing that project to fruition.
That’s certainly true of the Rippin Roller.
Ultimately, of course, consumers hold all the cards. They’ll decide whether or not there’s really a need in fitness for a roller with handles and resistance bands.
MAGNET, though, has confidence. Confidence in Fowler’s idea. Confidence in Fowler himself as a spokesman and trainer. Confidence in Cleveland’s ability to manufacture the product on a large scale, should demand compel supply.
“We’re bullish on it,” Simon said. “It all comes down to what the customer wants, but we know there’s so much manufacturing capability here, and we see that it can be made here.”
MAGNET is an underwriter of The Land, supporting coverage of Northeast Ohio’s manufacturing economy.
Zachary Lewis is a freelance journalist living in Shaker Heights.