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October 03, 2013 | Tom Ballard

NODE one of 20 products in Walmart’s “Get on the Shelf” competition

Variable TechnologiesBy Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates. P.C.

We had not spoken with former Knoxvillian Alex Lavidge of Variable Inc. since his relocation to Chattanooga in August, but we learned some exciting news for the company when we caught-up with him recently.

Variable’s NODE+ wireless sensor platform for smart devices is one of the final products selected for a Walmart.com competition called “Get on the Shelf.” This five-week competition, now in its second year, features four entrepreneurs each week pitching their products that, according to Walmart, are designed to “help make the world a better place to live.”

“Over a thousand videos were submitted before the competition closed in mid-September,” Lavidge told us. Variable made the finals with 19 other small companies that are marketing innovative new products.

Lavidge says that the contest helps Walmart, the world’s largest retailer and the third largest corporation in the U.S., promote its support for small business owners while also spotlighting innovative products that capture the imagination of shoppers. For those pitching their ideas, it is the opportunity to get their product on the shelves of Walmart.com in front of more than 40 million unique visitors each month.

Four entrepreneurs present each week online, and viewers to the web-based pitches vote for their favorites. The web series appears to be modeled from the TV series, Shark Tank.

As of this week, two of the planned five episodes have been posted. The inaugural one focused on the “Live Better” theme while the second one was geared to ideas for “Around the House.” The remaining episode themes are “Kid Stuff,” “Great Gadgets,” and “Made in America.”

George Yu, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Variable, will be pitching the NODE+ sensor platform before the judges in the “Made in America” episode. Variable recently has been receiving praise from Popular Mechanics magazine and others for its move to keep the design and manufacturing for NODE+ sensor technology in Chattanooga.

Lavidge noted that Variable is currently best positioned to disrupt the color matching industry with its NODE+Chroma color referencing tool as well as in other industries where “significant opportunities for rapid growth” are surfacing.

For instance, he said the company announced last month that NODE+Therma was integrated with VibePro, an iOS app by GTI Spindle. VibePro currently is used by thousands of engineers in the manufacturing sector worldwide for vibration analysis, balancing, and more.

“Despite our focus toward saving multiple industries already using single-use handheld sensors time and money with our wireless sensor platform, the Walmart competition gives us an additional seal of approval that NODE+ has the potential to become a mainstream consumer product over the long-term,” Lavidge explained.  “Our international resellers will be really excited to hear the news.

He added that the recognition lets mobile app developers know that Variable is laying the groundwork to scale and that “now is best time to ask us how they can integrate their mobile app with NODE+ so that they can benefit from this upswing.”

Walmart explained on the web page “The multi-stage contest includes opportunities for the public to make their voice heard through online voting and will feature finalist entrants in an original web series. Winners will receive the opportunity to sell their product through Walmart.com and the grand champion(s) can additionally receive valuable marketing support.”

Lavidge told us that Goodlettsville-based  Eraselet, a child’s bracelet that erases, also made it in the final round of “Get on the Shelf.”

As for Variable, Lavidge says he’s confident the company is on track to launching a successful Series B round of funding by next year.