Entrepreneur and inventor searches for breakthrough

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Mitch Heuer owns Heuer Labs in Whitefish. (Duncan Adams/Daily Inter Lake)

One product would arm a school principal with a weapon that would provide less-than-lethal or lethal options when confronting a school shooter.

One barrel of the “Protector’s Choice” would fire bean-bag rounds. One would fire live ammunition.

A separate product would recycle Styrofoam to manufacture 4-foot-long Lego-style construction blocks that could enhance efforts far and wide to build affordable housing.

A third product would employ magnetic levitation propulsion and other technology to propel U.S. Border Agents or detection technologies in vessels atop a border wall bristling with detection sensors.

Mitch Heuer refrains from gilding the lily.

His home-based start-up in Whitefish, Heuer Labs LLC, hasn’t blossomed yet. Aside from securing a patent related to Protector’s Choice, the company hasn’t really even produced a bud.

Or greenbacks either.

Heuer (pronounced HEW-er) readily acknowledges these ideas for innovative products — ideas that have sprung from his active brain — haven’t yet found fertile soil or funding.

A GoFundMe campaign meant to solicit contributions for Heuer Labs’ concept for a border wall has so far raised $5. The funding goal is $20 million.

Still, Heuer, 55, sounds more disappointed than disheartened.

He said Heuer Labs has been stuck in the three-Fs phase of entrepreneurship: seeking support from Friends, Family and, according to one definition of the entrepreneurial three-Fs, “Fools.”

“That’s just part of the innovation process,” Heuer said.

To date, efforts to interest private investors or people in government who have some measure of funding sway have come up empty.

Heuer said venture capital firms he’s contacted in Montana have told him Heuer Labs is too “early stage” for their investment.

He tried to pitch the company’s border wall concept to the government in response to a request for proposals from Customs and Border Protection. Heuer said he was told his company was not eligible to be considered because it did not have a prior relationship with the agency.

He said Heuer Labs tried to interest Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education in the company’s less-than-lethal/lethal weapon and its accompanying comprehensive approach to making schools safer. No one responded, Heuer said.

Heuer Labs also approached firearms manufacturers to gauge their interest. No dice.

“We’ve knocked on doors and no one has wanted to sign a licensing agreement, so it looks like we might have to manufacture it on our own,” he said.

Outreach to U.S. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester and to U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte has been similarly fruitless, Heuer said.

He said Protector’s Choice and Heuer Block, the low-cost building material, are the products “that are closest to market and the ones I feel most passionate about.”

Heuer Labs has not yet manufactured a prototype for the Protector’s Choice. Heuer said a sheriff in Colorado and a deputy sheriff in Montana have expressed interest in examining a prototype.

Heuer readily acknowledges he fits many of the diagnostic criteria for ADD, attention deficit disorder, although he prefers a different definition — “attention diversification and discernment.” He also adds “discipline.”

He said his mind can churn with ideas and that’s when he needs to rein in and focus.

“You have to discipline yourself with discernment,” he said, smiling. “Otherwise, I can be completely scattered, with multiple things going on.”

Heuer was born and raised in Denver and graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School. He has an associate degree in applied science, he said.

In years past, he has worked as a diesel mechanic and in construction. He had an excavation business. He was a construction supervisor in Moab, Utah, with Community Rebuilds, a nonprofit organization that builds affordable and energy-efficient straw-bale homes.

Rikki Epperson, program director for Community Rebuilds, said Heuer was the construction supervisor and lead instructor during the construction of an affordable, single-family straw bale house in Moab. His crew included eight students and one apprentice, Epperson said, and he supervised building the house from foundation to completion.

“He is really curious and he is always trying to think in terms of creative troubleshooting,” Epperson said.

Heuer founded Heuer Labs in 2008 in Golden, Colorado, before moving to Bigfork in 2015 and then to Whitefish roughly a year ago. He said the company has eight part-time employees in locations that include Pennsylvania, Utah, Colorado and Montana.

He said his father and mother ran small businesses that included a catering enterprise and a carpet cleaning venture, but are now retired.

As a child, Heuer was “tinkering, always tinkering with something,” he said.

He was a paperboy and a dishwasher and he and his friends rode go-carts and mini-bikes.

Heuer said the vo-tech classes in eighth and ninth grades were a revelation. He found a niche.

“It fit perfectly with my ADD,” he said, providing an introduction to a host of varied and practical skills.

Today, to pay the bills while his company remains stalled for the time being in the three Fs, Heuer sells real estate for Kelly Right Real Estate and is a dealer and builder for Heritage Homes, a company that offers modular homes.

Heuer said the Heuer Block could help communities around the world tackle the affordable-housing crisis. About 97 percent of the block is made from recycled, post-consumer waste Styrofoam and is akin to an “insulated concrete form.”

The blocks are 4 feet long and either 12 inches by 12 inches or 12 inches by 16 inches.

As envisioned, Heuer Labs would lease the portable equipment that manufactures the blocks to customers that might include Habitat for Humanity, Heuer said.

He said the blocks would work well with straw-bale construction.

The interview with Heuer about his company occurred Feb. 18, on the heels of both a Feb. 15 in shooting in Aurora, Illinois, that killed five, not including the gunman, and the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17.

Heuer said he believes Protector’s Choice offers schools, and employers, an option that would allow a school or company official to disable a shooter without worrying about “collateral damage” — killing innocent people in the vicinity.

And if that failed, the person wielding the Protector’s Choice could switch the firearm to shoot-to-kill mode, he said.

Heuer said he believes people in power in government and in schools have failed to adequately prepare for the inevitability of more mass shootings.

He said everyone should be ready to respond to such an event — by carrying a concealed weapon, with the proper permit, or by being armed with pepper spray or mace.

“A properly trained and defensively armed citizenry will create the most civil society,” he said. “Bad things happen. It’s not if, it’s when.”

Meanwhile, Heuer said he is keeping the faith about Heuer Labs’ products, noting he believes that both Protector’s Choice and Heuer Block could help provide solutions to pressing social problems.

“I think they were divinely inspired, or otherwise I probably would have quit,” he said. “They came from God.”

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at dadams@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4407.

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