Bringing Pottery to a New Level

Potter Tim Carlburg is almost ready to go to market with his award-winning idea from last year’s Glacier Startup Weekend

By Molly Priddy
Tim Carlburg shows off the pottery station he pitched at last year's Glacier Startup Weekend. Carlburg has been making custom beer growlers for the last decade. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

For Tim Carlburg, the journey into entrepreneurship started at the pottery wheel, where he began crafting his now-wildly popular handmade, custom growlers.

His pieces have been featured in national media, such as the show “Parks and Rec” and in Men’s Journal magazine, and they’re easy to spot in breweries around the valley, along with his other pottery creations.

With increased popularity comes an increased workload, and Carlburg was spending much of his time hunched in front of the wheel. Soon, it was taking a toll on his back.

When chiropractor visits didn’t cut it anymore, Carlburg built himself a stand-up station that would support the pottery wheel while taking the pressure off his back and letting him stand up straight.

“I had a very clear problem, and the solution was standing,” he said in his Kalispell studio last week. “It worked so well, I thought, ‘Why is it not taught this way?’ And I realized it’s because my table was built to my specific height.’”

This led to Carlburg’s musings about an adjustable, ergonomic potter’s station, an idea that likely would not have led anywhere as quickly as it did had Carlburg not attended the inaugural Glacier Startup Weekend last year.

The weekend – taking place this year over Oct. 9-11 – brings together anyone interested in entrepreneurship, from potential businesspeople to mentors and coaches. In the span of 54 hours, participants team up and take entrepreneurs from ideas to a viable business.

Carlburg attended the weekend last year, presenting his idea for the ergonomic potter’s station. His idea was selected as one of 11 that would move on to the final presentations, where he took third place.

Now, a year later, his ergonomic design is almost ready to hit to market.

“Startup Weekend for me, it validated the idea,” Carlburg said.

The weekend starts with 60-second pitches from entrepreneurs, which are then voted on by the participants. The top ideas are announced and the entrepreneurs list what they would need to make it a viable business. For Carlburg, his three team members brought the IT experience, marketing chops, and engineering brains he needed to make his idea a reality.

They wrote up a business plan and put a pitch together, which was then judged on Sunday of the weekend. Carlburg said he spent a lot of time at the event, staying until the wee hours of the morning most days.

“We did a lot of work in a short amount of time,” he said, laughing.

His idea took third place, and he decided to continue with it after the weekend. Carlburg sent his original design to a manufacturing company, which made the prototype he uses now in his studio.

The shelf holding the potter’s wheel can move up and down at the push of a button, and atop the backsplash guard sits a light and of course USB ports for phones and music accessories.

Using it has helped him work out the kinks, Carlburg said, and to realize the added benefits he hadn’t thought of before, such as being able to raise the wheel up to eye height to work on details.

“So far it’s been working better than I had imagined,” he said.

He brought it with him to a pottery event in Great Falls, where it received plenty of attention from the clay world. Carlburg said his website should be up by the beginning of 2016, and he plans to start selling units after he introduces the work station at the annual National Council on the Education for the Ceramic Arts conference in March, a massive gathering of potters, educators, and others involved in clay work.

The prototype is also testing very well with other artists, he said.

Carlburg said Startup Weekend is a major reason he’s in this position with his burgeoning business, and that even after the weekend, he was able to reach out to mentors with questions.

He encouraged interested entrepreneurs to give it the weekend a chance, because their solution to a specific problem might be one to receive support from an enthusiastic audience.

“They say bring your idea, launch it, make it into a business,” Carlburg said. “In our case, it happened that it worked.”

For more information on Carlburg Pottery, visit www.handmadegrowlers.com.

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