Valley entrepreneur’s long journey to success

By Benjamin Treviño

STAFF WRITER

In his bestselling book, “David vs Goliath,” Malcolm Gladwell laid out how difficulties in life can help individuals achieve success. Albert Einstein once said, “Adversity introduces a man to himself.” And thus it has been for Alamo native, Gilbert Moroles.

Fifty years ago, his mother was involved in a horrific traffic accident that required both her legs to be amputated. Moroles was just six years old at the time, and it had a profound impact on him.

“I’ve seen my mom in a health setting with prosthetics and wheelchairs since I was six years old,” Moroles recalled. “I saw her on the floor. I saw her in all kinds of medical situations, bathing, toileting, and just dealing with the everyday aches of living. So it became, over the years, a major influence for me to make things better.”

After graduating from Edinburg High School, Moroles attended Sul Ross State University on a football scholarship. He even got a tryout with the New England Patriots after college, but he wasn’t picked up by the team. With a degree in criminal justice, Moroles sought work in federal law enforcement, but those career options were stymied by hiring freezes. That’s when he decided to take a sales position with a durable medical supply company.

“I spent the next nine years travelling globally,” said Moroles. “I called on nursing homes and hospitals everywhere. I cold called about 80% of the nursing homes in the country from the early ‘80s to the mid-‘90s. I learned the backbone of the industry and I started to work on developing and designing products from there, based on the needs at the time.”

Moroles says he encountered “antiquated” manufacturing designs for devices such as PVC shower and potty chairs. Fittings were glued together. Weak points were easily broken. Some designs allowed water to seep into the inner wall of the frame, creating slip-and-fall and infection issues. Modular designs were bulky and expensive to ship and replace.

“I was able to capitalize on my travels,” Moroles said. “I looked at designs, cost-effectiveness, durability, shipping, and packaging. I took the whole ecosystem, starting from the concept, and developed a line for better medical devices.”

According to Moroles, his “New Era Shower Commode Chair” addresses all the flaws he found in conventional chairs, including durability, ease of cleaning and disinfection, component replacement, and a collapsible design that reduces shipping costs. His innovative design won him $10,000 at this year’s McAllen Chamber of Commerce Innovation Grant Awards competition. It was a back-to-back win for Moroles, who won a grant last year for his lower leg strength trainer.

“He is one of our serial entrepreneurs, and he continues to come up with some really cool designs,” said McAllen Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Steve Alhenius. “Gilbert has one of those minds where he’s always thinking about issues that his customers are facing. The neat thing about Gilbert is that he has a path to market. He has the distributors and once he gets up and running he can really start making money.”

“The chamber, Steve, and Jorge are pretty sharp guys,” Moroles said. “They give the opportunity to dig deeper within and help others. I see a lot of entrepreneurs who are like I was in early stages, and I’ve been able to help two or three of them. I’m working really close with a woman named Vivian who has developed a patent for a male pouch for incontinence and now as we speak we’re working with the government. I was able to help her with my relationships and go vertical with the market.”

Moroles plans to plow his earnings into more research and development with the goal of coming up with more innovative designs for other medical and assisted-living devices. His advice to budding entrepreneurs? Believe in what you do.

“They need to stay laser focused on it,” Moroles said. “There has to be a need in the market. It has to solve a problem, and you just have to have a better mousetrap. The McAllen Chamber is a lifeline for a lot of people who are new to business. There are a lot of good people out there with a lot of good ideas, but they just need some direction, and the chamber has it.”

Editor’s Note: For the past 12 years, the McAllen Chamber of Commerce has been awarding grants of up to $10,000 to local entrepreneurs to encourage product innovation and business creation in the McAllen area. Six start-up companies were selected as winners of this year’s Innovation Grant Awards competition, which was held Oct. 24. This is the fifth in a series of reports profiling each of this year’s recipients, their innovative process, and their thoughts on what it takes to start a business.