IdeaPaint all over your office walls

ideapaint.top.jpgAn IdeaPainted wall becomes a giant brainstorming space.By Jennifer Alsever, contributing writer


(CNNMoney.com) -- In 2002, a group of Babson College entrepreneurship students ran out of room on their whiteboard. They had spent hours brainstorming new business possibilities, and the sudden space crunch threatened to cramp their creativity.

Instead, it sparked a new idea: Why not make paint that turned walls into giant whiteboards? The ideas kept popping: you could paint chairs, doors, tabletops, playrooms, entire corporate offices. Any surface could be a canvas for inspiration. The company would be called IdeaPaint.

founders.jpg
IdeaPaint co-founders Jeff Avallon and Morgen Newman came up with their idea in college.

The risk: Finding the right formula was more than half the battle. For three years, former classmates Morgen Newman, John Goscha and Jeff Avallon sought help from specialty paint and chemical coating laboratories. Two labs claimed it was impossible. Whiteboards are made using high-intensity ovens. IdeaPaint needed something that could be applied with a roller in a single coat. That wasn't going to happen, the scientists said.

The young entrepreneurs refused to believe it. "Our joke was, if we could put a man on the moon, we can make dry-erase paint," says Newman, 25.

Then they found CAS-MI Laboratories in Ypsilanti, Mich., where the scientists were willing to give their plan a shot and even cover some of the development costs.

With the help of $1 million from family, friends and a few angel investors, the group spent the next four years fine-tuning their recipe.

Even after the formula was ready, the tiny startup faced big challenges. Manufacturers like Quartet, Acco (ABD), Ghent and GBC had for years ruled whiteboard market, worth $1 billion annually. Rust-Oleum, a century-old paint company, already had its own dry-erase paint on shelves at Target (TGT, Fortune 500) and online at Amazon.com (AMZN, Fortune 500). Unlike IdeaPaint, Rust-Oleum's product is geared to home users and must be applied in multiple coats.

The payoff: When the trio finally launched IdeaPaint in 2008 at an architectural trade show, they painted 3,000 square feet of the Chicago Merchandise Mart and hired muralists to draw on the walls and hand out information to passersby. It struck a chord. Blogs picked up the news and requests flooded in.

"A growing number of architects and painters view it as breakthrough technology," says Phil Maguire, senior category manager for Akzo Nobel, the largest paint and coating company in the world, which now distributes IdeaPaint. Maguire claims it's easier to apply and lasts longer than Rust-Oleum's product.

Bolstered by $9 million from investors, Cambridge, Mass.-based IdeaPaint is seeing double-digit revenue growth each month and has landed honors from BusinessWeek and the now-defunct magazine Metropolitan Home. The paint covers office walls at Comedy Central, the C.I.A., Harvard University and Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500). Reebok designers coat their foot mannequins with the paint so they can draw on them. A can of IdeaPaint PRO that covers 50 square feet sells for $199, or $4 per square foot.

"It has the potential to revolutionize the whole industry," says Marcus Wilson, a managing director with Cambridge-based Breakaway Ventures, which invested in the company. Wilson, 37, a former Reebok executive, has since stepped in to become IdeaPaint's chief marketing officer. Former Reebok U.S.A. president Bob Munroe is now IdeaPaint's CEO, and Paul Fireman, who was Reebok's CEO for three decades, is an advisor and investor.

Next up for the 17-employee startup: expanding to hospitals and schools, and selling the paint in retail stores this summer. Newman has been travelling the globe to line up distributors in Europe, India and Australia. His flights are complimentary: He recounted IdeaPaint's backstory in an essay for a British Airways contest and scored a year of free airfare.

Some 20,000 businesses now have IdeaPainted walls. It's not a hard sell, says Ben Fischman, CEO of Boston e-commerce firm Retail Convergence.

Fischman painted a couple of conference room walls after his friends at Breakaway Ventures introduced him to IdeaPaint two years ago. Eventually, he covered the entire office with it. His 225 employees now write on the walls every day.

"We're IdeaPaint junkies," Fischman says. "It's a no-brainer. You say, 'Duh, why didn't I think of this?'" To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Questions & Answers



QHow does a florist sell more in this economy? We changed our business to designing weddings and events only, as the everyday flowers are not selling. We had to throw out too much product at the end of the week -- flowers are perishable! More
Get Answer
- The Flower Lady, Suwanee, Ga.
Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed3.98%3.95%
15 yr fixed3.05%3.05%
5/1 ARM3.32%3.71%
30 yr refi4.05%4.03%
15 yr refi3.12%3.11%
Rate data provided
by Bankrate.com
View rates in your area
 
Find personalized rates:

Sections

New York headlines took a straight forward and direct approach with NYC's Ebola news. More

The midterm elections are around the corner, and the economy remains a top concern. With unemployment down and inflation low, why do people still feel the economy stinks? More

Shares of Facebook recently topped $80. They've more than quadrupled from their post-IPO lows of two years ago. Can Mark Zuckerberg keep the momentum in mobile going? More

Host a furniture market. Here's how small town High Point, N.C. rakes in this much money -- twice a year. More

If you're looking to fly this holiday season, the clock's ticking to get the best prices. More

Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.