Marco Cucco, founder of Lathrup Village-based Idea Mia and the JetBag brand, saw an opportunity to help Michigan workers with disabilities and left a successful corporate job to pursue a life as an entrepreneur. Back in 2008, while in the middle of an especially challenging Michigan economy, Cucco decided he was growing tired of the rat race and came up with a way to branch out on his own. Building off of an idea his wife Angie had back in the 90’s when frequently traveling to and from Italy, he decided to bring the concept of a protective and absorbent wine travel bag to fruition.
The best way to transport wine, at the time, was to wrap the bottles in baby diapers when putting them in the suitcase. That way if they broke under pressure in-flight the diapers would absorb the liquids. The simple yet profound concept was improved by adding a more compact yet absorbent padding and a stylish bottle shaped leak proof bag. After months, and countless nights, spent moonlighting on the project, Cucco was finally able to identify a design and a go to market strategy for the bags that worked.
Further breakthroughs were made when Angie, a Grayling native, drew on family contacts to identify ROOC as the ideal manufacturing and fulfillment partner. ROOC, which is based in Roscommon, Michigan, employs workers with disabilities giving them the opportunity to succeed. As Cucco says, “These highly motivated people need training and the correct structure to be gainfully employed. We love the partnership…it’s a win-win for everyone! They allow us to give back to the community while fulfilling orders efficiently and cost effectively.”
Cucco, who holds an MBA in Pharmaceutical Business, had over 10 years behind him at companies like Samsung and GlaxoSmithKline. Yet, he still found himself having to learn almost everything about running a business after starting Idea Mia. “In the corporate world, you can rely on your team or a different department to fill in the blanks, but as a small startup, you have to become an expert in everything.” Cucco goes on to say “The trick is aligning yourself with people you can trust to fill in those blanks.”
Part of Idea Mia’s corporate philosophy is to reduce imports as much as possible. Cucco says, “Importing reduces purchasing power of consumers in our biggest market, we need to do what we can to reduce the balance of payment. Also moving goods around the world is detrimental to our fragile environment, ideally we would like to only move final product around while producing and assembling exclusively in Michigan”.
Idea Mia has sold over 1 million of their JetBags worldwide, is launching four new products, and recently opened an office in Turin, Italy. According to Cucco, it hasn’t always been successful. “Learning from your mistakes can be a roller coaster of emotions. Sometimes it’s good news…sometimes it’s bad news.” There have been highs, like when they learned that Amazon or Bed Bath & Beyond wanted to carry their products. Other times, after multiple promising meetings with venture capitalists, funding didn’t come through. “It turns out you need capital to run a business through peaks and troughs” chuckles Cucco. “Our near term goals are to consolidate roots as a manufacturer of consumer brands in Michigan while advocating for manufacturing investments in the state and for a nation-wide campaign for sustainable US-based products.” To serve their growing number of clients more efficiently, Idea Mia is looking to expand with new people, financing, and facilities.
Idea Mia was funded with private investments from his founders and with a 50 thousand dollar loan from Northern Initiatives, a Community Development Financial Institution that delivers loans and business services to small business owners and entrepreneurs who create jobs and enable the people and communities in Northern Michigan to thrive. Idea Mia is the international distributer of unique lifestyle products designed to protect, absorb, humidify and transport high value consumer items. With over 1 Million units sold around the world, the Michigan based organization distributes its products through retail outlets large and small. For more information, visit http://www.thejetbag.com.