Mark Lorkowski’s inspiration bubbled up when he reached for the case of soda on the shelf and noticed the price was too high.
Turns out the shelf label was wrong.
Fast forward two years. Lorkowski, 23, of Tallmadge has a fledgling tech company with a prototype of an electronic shelf tag — a credit-card size label, with a screen boasting prices, that can be changed quickly and remotely.
The tags have yet to be tested in a retail setting. Such a test is coming in the next several months.
Still, the label system has created a bit of a buzz: “We’ve gotten calls from several retailers,” he said, “and from other different entities in retail — on the marketing, branding and technology sides.”
Kohl’s stores this year began using electronic labels, made by a California company, that use another technology.
Lorkowski will be among the innovators from the Greater Akron area exhibiting at Tuesday’s Northeast Ohio Entrepreneur Expo.
The free annual event — which this year will be in Cleveland — is open to the public and brings together startups, potential investors, economic development officials, business students and others, including the just plain curious.
Exhibitors this year total more than 100, and so far, 700 people are signed up to attend, said Samantha Fryberger, a spokeswoman for the event organizer JumpStart Inc.
JumpStart is a regional nonprofit that mentors and invests in startups.
Lorkowski decided to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams full time in 2010, taking a break from his engineering studies at Case Western Reserve University. He and his brother, James, 28, the company’s co-founder, dubbed their startup LorkTech and brought in partners, including other Case students.
Mark Lorkowski said that suspending his studies in 2010 led to “some applause from one end, and some stares from others. But the market doesn’t really wait for you.”
After their soda-buying experience, the Lorkowski brothers investigated why electronic shelf labeling hasn’t taken off in the United States, as it has in the United Kingdom and other countries.
They learned that a major hurdle for U.S. retailers is dealing with the batteries used to power the shelf tags in European stores.
Retailers in the United States don’t want to devote time — and money — to changing batteries, Lorkowski said. Kohl’s tags use batteries.
Lorkowski and his brother developed — with the help of Kent Displays Inc. of Brimfield Township — an electronic shelf label system that uses whatever light is available in the store. The display technology is the same as that used in Kent Displays’ Boogie Board, a paperless writing pad.
A retailer would use radio frequency and wireless networks to update the label information from a remote location. The label system has a patent pending. The Lorkowski brothers and their partners each have chipped in seed money to fund the venture; Mark Lorkowski sold his 1998 Toyota Corolla to raise cash. He’s the only one devoting all his working hours to the startup. The others work in engineering and technical sales for other companies.
Lorkowski said he’s driving his brother’s old car these days, and it sends the right signal. “If you drive up [to meet an investor] in a new car,” he said, “it doesn’t show that you’re fully vested into the company.”
Other Akron-Canton area exhibitors include: Integravics LLC, a maker of wireless audio systems for bars and restaurants; GorMonjee, an app designed to let users make healthful food choices, and Wind Diverters Ltd., which has developed technology to increase the energy output of wind turbines.
Some exhibitors are making return appearances. They include Campusshift.com, a website college students use to search for deals on textbooks, as well as discounts at local businesses.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.