Some of the best startups are born out of necessity. Innovative individuals set out to solve a problem, and as a result, a new company is created. That was certainly the case for retired cowboy and security consultant Richard Nevels.
A few years back, Nevels bought a ranch in Northwest Arkansas and quickly realized that mowing his nearly two-acre yard would be a challenge given the number of rocks and roots. “One of things we grow the best in Northwest Arkansas is rocks,” he joked.
“You can mow the same area, and after rain, that same spot will be different. A corner of a rock may raise, and the blade on your mower may catch it. When that happens, something has to give,” Nevels added. “Most often, that’s your blade.”
Or, it could be the aluminum bearing housing, which results in hundreds of dollars and hours of labor to repair. “I did that three times, and I thought: There’s got to something better,” he said.
Nevels searched the internet in hopes of finding the solution to the problem he was facing. To his surprise, he found no remedy. Surely, he figured, he wasn’t the only one facing this dilemma. “So, I started the process of designing a solution myself. That led me to create the Blade Solution.”
The Rocking & Rolling N Blade Solution is a durable, aluminum hub that can be fitted to any lawnmower deck. Instead of a dangerous, destructible blade, the hub utilizes commercial-grade weedeater lines that are much more forgiving when coming in contact with rocks, roots, and other items – including human appendages.
“I realized I had found a gift, a blessing,” said Nevels. “It still mows very efficiently. You don’t pick up the rocks and dirt you would with a regular blade. It makes for a very equipment friendly environment. As I got more into it, I started looking at the safety benefits. That was eye-opening.”
According to Nevels, there are 80,000 lawnmower related accidents per year, and 75 of those result in death. There are 800 children involved in those accidents, and 600 result in amputation. Twenty-five result in death.
“We have 13 grandchildren, and they love helping Papa,” he said. “I’ve been field testing this product for three years, and I’ll never go back to a fixed blade. I’m very pleased with this, with the efficiency. I have not broken a single lawnmower since utilizing this blade solution. It has really been a blessing.”
It wasn’t long before the Blade Solution went from a passion project to a prospective business opportunity. Nevels, who spent 30 years as a professional cowboy, bull rider and rodeo producer, had to learn quickly the ends and outs of starting his own business.
“I was at a bull riding event, visiting with one of my buddies,” said Nevels. “When he retired from bull riding, he went back to school and got a degree in engineering. I told him about my idea, and he loved it. So, I got him involved in it. He helped me design the first prototype we used to do the concept testing. We 3D printed it out of nylon. This resulted in John Tullis and Jeremy Weinman joining the Blade Solution Team and partnership with their engineering and 3D expertise.
“From there, we used the nylon for one season, and the concept worked phenomenally. I kept reinforcing what I wanted – hard, no corners, nothing that will catch,” he added. “When you see it, you’ll notice a rounded contour, and when it comes in contact with something, it will slide off of it. We had aluminum prototypes created. Now, we’re trying to gain interest and capital to go to full production. I believe we have enough R&D behind us to know we have a very viable product.”
Entrepreneurship, Nevels said, isn’t for the faint of heart. This, coming from a man who retired from bull riding to join the Department of Homeland Security following the terror attacks of 9/11, serving the Transportation Security Administration and leading security teams for two presidential inaugurations. He also raises bucking bulls in his spare time.
“If you’ve never done it before, being an entrepreneur can be pretty daunting,” said Nevels. “There’s so much information out there. How do you sort through it all? The patent process is pretty tough. You have to do your homework. The more connections you can make, the better. Someone has already been through what you’ve been through, so it’s always good to connect with those people.”
Nevels said he has found help and hope in community, specifically in the incredible entrepreneurial community of Northwest Arkansas.
“Startup Junkie has been absolutely amazing,” he said. “It’s phenomenal to have access to those resources, that experience. That’s been a godsend. This entrepreneurial ecosystem has been incredible. There are a lot of people who have been through what I’m going through, who have felt the pains I’ve felt. There’s a lot of empathy there. They’re willing to say, ‘Okay, here are some steps you can take.’ It’s a long process. You’ve got to be willing to put in the effort. But there are people there who are willing to help and encourage you along the way.”
Nevels and his Rocking & Rolling N Blade Solution team were recently accepted into the I-Fund, which will help him by providing mentorship and access to capital. “We’re eligible and have the opportunity to receive $50,000 from the I-Fund group to help move the product forward,” he said.
That funding and the exposure that comes with it will help Nevels achieve his ultimate goal, which is to revolutionize the lawnmowing industry by making it much safer.
“Big picture, for me, is changing the lawnmowing market and methods towards safety,” he said. “There will always be a need for a fixed blade; this product won’t eliminate that. But you can give people the option for something more forgiving, something so much safer. I can teach my grandchildren how to mow in a much, much safer environment.
“I see a shift in mowing safety,” he added. “And I see that taking place when the Blade Solution becomes a household option.”