By Rebecca Heilweil
Jonathan Norton hopes to exemplify that veterans transitioning to civilian life can succeed as entrepreneurs.
Norton, a former Army Ranger, realized that hanging and climbing with rope could be much safer after a deployment to Iraq when one of his student soldiers almost fell to his death while rappelling down a cliff. When the student lost his footing, the rope almost sheared against the rock he was climbing and left him swinging in a life-threatening pendulum motion.
It was then Norton began to see that additional covering hanging along an abrasive surface, like a sharp cliff, could ensure that the rope's edge protection system stayed in position. That realization ultimately led to RopeSafe, a new edge protection system that Norton had Special Forces product test in Alaska. Now that idea has become his own small business, Peak Safety Systems.
In late April, Norton won a $30,000 business grant from Bob Evans Farms, a food supplier, to help grow his business. The company hosts an annual “Heroes to CEOs” competition for military veteran entrepreneurs. Norton beat about 200 other competitors.
“Anywhere there is a rope, there’s a need for this product,” Norton told Cheddar. His initial customers include New York City's Fire and Police Departments and the Dallas-Fort Worth SWAT team. The product is estimated to protect the life of a rope by 50 percent.
“This item was used and created to help save the lives of our first responders,” Daymond John, the CEO of the clothing brand Fubu and longtime “shark” on ABC’s hit show "Shark Tank," told Cheddar. “Sales, and a reason why it needs to exist, I think, is why he won.” John served as a mentor to the finalists during the competition.
Norton added that while he’s focusing on attaining business grants through the Department of Defense, his product isn’t limited to public safety and military buyers. “I’m focusing on strategic accounts with the Navy Seals, Army Rangers, Green Berets. But also on the commercial marketplace too. I also just sold product to a window washing company in Rochester, New York,” said Norton. "There's a clear application in the commercial marketplace."
Norton added that though his manufacturing is primarily done in the U.S., he’s not opposed to moving production overseas.
For full interview click here.