Rick Rantilla is convinced his invention can succeed.
He's less certain how to market it.
That's why Rantilla, a resident of greater Bluffton who makes patent-pending cabinets that encourage kids to put away toys before getting out new ones, is among the first clients to enter the Lowcountry Small Business Hub's virtual business incubator.
The incubator recently selected Rantilla and three other area entrepreneurs as its first clients.
Organizers plan to match each with a mentor and hand-picked team of volunteer experts - from fields such as accounting, finance, management, marketing and attracting investors - to help the businesses grow, create jobs and diversify the local economy.
Rantilla, a 65-year-old former engineer at General Motors who teaches graduate-level business classes, said he's eager for hub organizers to pair him with marketing experts.
He was inspired to develop the cabinets after watching his grandchildren accumulate messy piles of toys. But when he began to design a website and attend trade shows to launch his business, he realized he knew little about how to promote his product.
"Some things you can't learn from a book," said Rantilla, president of One at a Time Products. "Somebody that has had the experience (of marketing), I think, is going to help me out."
Other incubator clients want to learn how to better distribute their products, find financing, manage money and write contracts.
Like Rantilla, Carlton Bruner knows his product - audio-video systems - but needs guidance in other areas.
"I know I don't have all the answers," said Bruner, who has one employee at his business, Technology Systems and Design of Beaufort.
Louise Hodges said she hopes having expertise at her fingertips will help her Beaufort-based business, a line of cedar oil-based pest control products called Greenbug All Natural, become a household name.
"I think the more heads you get together, the better the decision will be," said Hodges, who runs the business with her husband, Dan Hodges.
Adrienne Edge, a Pooler, Ga., resident planning to sell premium baby foods made with ingredients from South Carolina and Georgia under the name Tummy Time Foods, said she looks forward to working one-on-one with seasoned pros.
"I expect to get a more realistic view of the ins and outs of running a business," she said.After the clients are assigned mentors and experts, all parties will go through an orientation. With the guidance of their mentors, the clients will begin online training to learn to look at their businesses through the eyes of an investor.
Throughout the process, each team of experts will act as a small board of directors, meeting regularly to counsel its client for up to three years, said D'Jaris Moore, president and chief operating officer of the nonprofit hub.
"Our focus will be a long-term relationship, which is what small businesses have said they needed," Moore said.
Incubator organizers also are building a list of professional service providers, such as accountants, who have offered to work with clients at reduced rates, she said.
Moore estimated the incubator program would cost about $50,000 to launch. The project is funded by a federal grant, local sponsors and clients' monthly fees, she said.
The organizers plan to induct another group of businesses later this year.
Follow staff writer Josh McCann at twitter.com/LowcoBiz.