Andrew: “I’m determined, and I keep moving on.”
It was Andrew Ziccardi’s last call of the day, and it was hot.
This was August 2010, and Andrew had a job selling durable medical equipment, which included delivering the equipment to clients and training them how to use it. But on this Chicago afternoon, the humidity overwhelmed his client — a woman in her 80s — as she tried out her new walker. She took a bottle of water from the refrigerator and held it up to him.
“Andy,” she said, “I can’t open these. Can you open it for me?” As he twisted the cap off, it dawned on Andrew that his client probably wasn’t the only senior who struggled to uncap a water bottle.
“I have an 89-year-old mom, and she has difficulties, too,” he remembers thinking.
That realization set Andrew on an unexpected path. Five years of research later, he developed the Ergo Cap, a small tool that fits over standard bottle caps and enables people with hand-strength issues to open water bottles with ease. Recyclable and made of bio-friendly material, the Ergo Cap is engineered to let users open about 95% of generic water bottles.
Entrepreneurs like Andrew are brimming with ideas and motivation. Often, though, they need help getting their ideas off the ground.
For Andrew, that help came in the form of AARP Foundation’s free Work for Yourself@50+ workshop, taught by a childhood friend at Northeastern Illinois University. The workshop centers on the Five Simple Steps to Get You Started toolkit, which includes detailed lesson plans and worksheets. Participants gain free tools, resources and guidance, as well as connections to peers and to additional program support.
Andrew says the workshop emphasized the importance of doing extensive market research on his prospective industry. From there, he learned how to refine his business model and develop a full-fledged business plan, including, he says, “what I think I’ll generate the first, second and third year. What costs are involved — not only the product and manufacturing, but other things like advertising, trade shows and travel.”
Now, at age 58, the self-described “go-getter” is doggedly pursuing seed money for Ergo Cap — a difficult task now complicated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ve been in front of three or four investment opportunities with different folks,” he says. “Just before COVID-19, I had someone who was about to invest the $50,000 I need to get production rolling. And then the markets took a big dive and he just pulled out.”
He reached out to a second potential investor recently who said he was ready to invest, but again it went nowhere. “It was disheartening,” he says, “but I’m determined, and I keep moving on.”
Once Andrew has enough funding in place for mass production, the Ergo Cap will be available for less than $2 a piece ($5 for a pack of three) — including a version with a keyring hole.
“If people are on the move, more times than not, they’re purchasing water bottles for their car or their coolers,” he explains. “This is a great way to make the everyday task of opening a bottle of water easier.”
While he seeks funding, Andrew is also working with an engineer to expand its diameter so it can open larger plastic bottle caps — all while holding a full-time position as a salesman in a different field.
“I will pursue this to where I’m successful enough to either pass it onto my children, sell the company, or be semi-retired and work on other projects,” he says. “That’s my dream.”