Sometimes a product idea is as obvious as the wall right in front of you. In 2005, three Babson College undergrads were brainstorming on a whiteboard, but had to keep erasing proposals to make room for more. Then, recalls Jeff Avalon, one of them said, "Wouldn't it be great if we could have a dry erase board that just took up the entire wall?"
Over the next three years, Avalon, John Goscha, and Morgan Newman collaborated with chemists to come up with a durable, smooth, and nonabsorbing paint that could turn a flat surface into an erasable board. They released IdeaPaint at the NeoCon home-furnishing trade show in 2008 with a 3,000-sq.-ft. display and won its Innovation and Gold Awards. Since then, the Cambridge (Mass.) startup has generated $2 million in revenue.
The water-based paint, which now comes in nine colors, is made under contract by three paint manufacturers in the Midwest and distributed by MDC Wallcoverings of Elk Grove Village, Ill. The three founders, now all 25, financed their venture with money from angels at Babson until they secured $5 million from Breakaway Ventures of Boston. The trio are among the company's 14 employees, but they're no longer the bosses: Knowing their own limitations, they hired Phil Damiano, who had run two other startups, as chief executive in January.
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