Accessorizing for the love of video

LEVEL Camera Products
Kyle Ilenda: senior, mechanical engineering
Spencer Johnson

Growing up in Superior, Wis., Kyle Ilenda and Spencer Johnson bonded over free-style skiing. But when the two friends started videotaping their ski moves, they discovered a shared passion for video production.

As their video skills grew in high school, they developed a do-it-yourself approach to making camera equipment to get the best footage. In fact, the pair already runs a video production-service business. This ultimately led to their winning Student Startup Challenge (SSC) idea, LEVEL Camera Products.

“We’ve been making devices to use with our cameras ever since we got into video production,” says Ilenda, now a mechanical engineering student at UWM. “We were running to the hardware store at every free opportunity, always tinkering in the basement or garage.”

They realized that other videographers might want similar accessories to get certain shots, but might prefer to skip the do-it-yourself-MacGyver approach.

“With LEVEL, you’re buying those parts and pieces that give you the freedom to create and tailor devices,” Ilenda says. “It’s an alternative to purchasing multiple separate components, which can add up very quickly.”

The LEVEL kit includes seven pieces that allow users to make one of three different accessories, while minimizing the amount of additional equipment they need to carry: a camera slider that creates smooth linear motion, a shoulder rig to stabilize handheld footage, and a table-top dolly that allows users to create linear motion shots with a flat surface like a table, Johnson explains.

He and Ilenda are experimenting to determine the best ways to manufacture their prototype components, using machining and manufacturing equipment available at UWM and at Iron Range Engineering, a program at Minnesota State University-Mankato.

Ilenda has found many other resources at UWM, essentially applying his own research project to at least two courses.

The prototypes were honed in the “Product Realization” course, where he and a team of other students taking the class, improved the function of the pieces.

Ilenda created a business plan for LEVEL in “Commercialization and Innovation,” a course taught by the president of the UWM Research Foundation, Brian Thompson.

Meanwhile, a student team in an entrepreneurship class at the Lubar School of Business is currently conducting surveys to help Ilenda and Johnson understand the market for their product. A UWM fiber arts student has also worked with the pair to design a carrying case for the LEVEL components.

Ilenda says the SSC process has also taught him a thing or two about generating ideas. He now carries a sketch book with him at all times, and makes an effort to jot down ideas as soon as they come to him—in the middle of a lecture, say, or while walking to class.

There was a time, he says, when he wasn’t sure if mechanical engineering was the right degree for him. “The thought of working in a corporate job didn’t excite me,” he says. “But once I joined this [entrepreneurial] ecosystem, that’s when I realized – this is exactly what I wanted.”

The friends hope that LEVEL makes it to market, and that they have the opportunity to build off its success. Says Ilenda: “We hope to continue doing both of the things we love doing. Product development and coming up with different ways to hold and move a camera.”

Update: The team tied for third place in the New Ventures Business Plan Competition, sponsored by the Lubar School of Business and La Macchia Enterprises, winning $2,000.