Maryann Kilgallon, Founder and CEO of Pink Lotus Technologies, was inspired to launch her business after hearing about the tragic death of a three year old boy. Despite having no knowledge of the tech industry, she was determined to develop a life-saving device capable of protecting children and giving their parents and caregivers peace of mind. Kilgallon, who describes herself as a natural born entrepreneur, shared her story from starting an ice cream franchise and selling tacos on the campus of The University of Central Florida to working with entrepreneurs and eventually quitting her job to pursue her latest venture.
"My husband and I first arrived in Florida bout 25 years ago," Kilgallon said. "We had a two year old at the time and I was nine months pregnant. I stayed home with the kids through kindergarten and then worked for AT&T for four years. After that I opened an old fashioned ice cream parlor called 2 Scoops Cafe. I had previous entrepreneurial experiences such as selling hand-made women's tops and nicknacks at home parties, but this was my first experience with an actual retail shop. After a while, people started asking about franchising the concept. We ended up doing five of those and then, in 2008, everyone ended up closing because of the economy. After that experience I did some restaurant consulting before opening Salsa 2 GO, a taco stand on the campus of UCF. After seven years, we had to close up shop. Between the cost of food, insurance and the unpredictable hours, we just weren't profitable."
Not long after, Kilgallon connected with Jerry Ross, President of the National Entrepreneur Center located in Orlando. He was looking for someone to run the front office and Kilgallon was looking for work. She spent the next three years working with entrepreneurs and sharing her knowledge of how to build and run a business. On the night of August 8th, 2017, Kilgallon heard a news story that changed everything.
"My husband was out of town so I was up later than normal watching TV," she said. "A news story came on about a three year old boy that was left strapped in a hot vehicle and died. I was sad and angry and spent the entire night tossing and turning. I wanted to do something about it. That desire to do something wouldn't leave me. I said a prayer and I envisioned a device a child could wear that would track heartbeat, temperature and other vital signs. The next day at work, I sat in my car on my lunch break browsing the internet for such a product. I couldn't really find anything built for kids under the age of eight. For the next five months, I spent my nights, weekends, lunch breaks and any spare time researching the technology, competition, market, etc. I was determined to find a solution."
In October 2017, Kilgallon founded Pink Lotus Technologies. She opened a bank account, signed up for pre-incubator consulting, hired other incubator companies to do CAD drawings and schematics and exclusively devoted her energy towards finding a solution. To fund her venture, Kilgallon sold a house she used as a weekend retreat in the Ocala National Forest. She paid off debt, filed for a trademark and patent, after doing the work herself, and applied for various conferences and pitch competitions throughout the country. One particular conference, the Consumer Technology Association (CES) in Las Vegas, gave Kilgallon an opportunity to showcase a prototype of her flagship product, POMM, a wearable tech solution that uses existing mobile technology for automated wellness checks and instant alerts anytime, and to make valuable industry connections.
"When I was at CES, I spoke with a lot of people and got some great feedback," she said. "I met with investors, manufacturers and other companies that are interested in what we're doing. The next step is to determine which manufacture to go with and to secure funding. I also need to hire a Chief Technology Officer who has experience in the tech industry. Surrounding yourself with people that know what they're doing is critical."
While there's no predicting the future, one thing is certain, Kilgallon is all in. She left her job, sold her vacation property and dove head first into an industry she knew little about. Looking ahead, she has big plans for the future.
"I'm going to Austin, TX, in May to pitch at Fund Conference," she said. "While there, I'll have an opportunity to meet with potential investors. I also might have an opportunity to pitch on a very popular TV show. In terms of the actual product launch, I'm anticipating quarter one of 2020. We'll sell through our website, Amazon, Walmart.com and other distribution channels. I'm excited about all the great things on the horizon."
What advice does Kilgallon have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "The first step is the hardest," she said. "After that, it becomes easier. The main thing is to focus on solving an actual problem. If you can solve a problem, then you probably have a good idea. It's also important to be realistic with your expectations. It's not easy and it's definitely not for the lighthearted. If it were simple and easy, everyone would do it. Entrepreneurship can be a scary thing. I've had no paycheck for a year and three months, but it's worth it. There's nothing worse than always wanting to try something and not doing it. Go into it with an open mind, be patient and realistic and surround yourself with other people that are willing to help you. I'm currently in the UCF Business Incubator Program. The support I've received has helped me tremendously."