TurtleCell Announces Partnership, Prepares National Product Launch

When we spoke to the Ann Arbor, MI-based startup TurtleCell last year, the company had recently won the $10,000 first-place prize at the annual American Society of Mechanical Engineers Innovation Showcase for its iPhone case with headphones embedded inside on a retractable cord. Earlier this month, TurtleCell finally made the headphone case for the iPhone 5 and 5S available for pre-order on its website, with orders expected to be delivered in October.

The headphone cases will also be available nationwide in time for the holidays thanks to a newly inked partnership deal with Digital Treasures, a Michigan-based mobile accessories manufacturer and distributor.

“They sought us out after [the] Accelerate Michigan [business plan competition] last fall,” says Jeremy Lindlbauer, co-founder of TurtleCell. The company had tried and failed to get its product off the ground through Kickstarter, but Lindlbauer says the experience was crucial in refining the way TurtleCell’s headphone case works.

“It’s a much improved design now,” he says. “And in the meantime, we continued to participate in pitch contests. The big one was Accelerate Michigan, where we won the people’s choice award. That led to a little bit of press and the connection to Digital Treasures, so we decided to move forward with them.”

In January, team members from TurtleCell and Digital Treasures headed to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where they unveiled the revised product design together. “We had a lot of success there—people were extremely excited,” Lindlbauer says. “We started feeling out national retailers while we were there.”

In response to interest generated at CES, TurtleCell is currently preparing to fill orders from two national retail chains—Lindlbauer declined to name which ones on the record—and are trying to build buzz by offering its product at a discount for pre-order. “If things go well, we’ll be in 6,000 stores by the holidays,” he adds.

Lindlbauer says co-founders Nick Turnbull and Paul Schrems are spending a lot of time going back and forth to China, where the headphone case will be manufactured, to make sure the process goes smoothly and to oversee quality control.

TurtleCell’s road to a national product launch was paved with plenty of help from local business development organizations, Lindlbauer notes. The startup spent a year working with Ann Arbor SPARK, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s First Customer program helped TurtleCell do product cycle testing and place ads on Pandora and Spotify.

Lindlbauer says in addition to planning the product release, TurtleCell is also working on expanding its intellectual property portfolio. The company has patents pending on its current design, but he and the other founders are also starting to build TurtleCell’s next product: A headphone case that includes a battery. “We’re looking to launch the new product at CES next year,” he says.

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