WisBusiness: FlameDisk is lighting a fire in market for tailgating gear

By Serena Gilbert

For WisBusiness.com

MIDDLETON — Football season also means tailgating time. For many tailgaters, however, the prep and clean-up time cuts into their pre- and post-game fun.

The Wisconsin makers of “FlameDisk” have tried to do their part to make tailgating easier with a solidified ethanol pan that can be used in place of charcoal for grilling.

“We struggled initially developing a disposable grill that would meet our simultaneous performance and cost targets,” said Chad Sorenson, president of Middleton-based Sologear LLC, which developed the FlameDisk.

“At a projected $10 retail each, we didn’t feel the concept was going to have mass appeal. There was a simultaneous trend towards more conservation and ‘greener’ products that influenced our decision to simplify the initial product concept,” Sorenson said. “That’s when we decided to have customers use their own grills and replace the charcoal with our unique fuel source instead.”

That idea has proven successful and FlameDisk is now sold across Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and parts of Florida and the southeast United States. By spring 2010, SoloGear is looking for FlameDisk to be available at supermarkets, hardware stores and sporting goods stores nationwide. At around $5 per FlameDisk, it is comparable in price to charcoal.

SoloGear’s next project will be a portable grill with a triangular shape with 89 square inches of grilling space. There is also a lever on the side to raise or lower the FlameDisk to increase or decrease the direct flame. The bottom legs can be flipped up to save space while traveling.

Sologear hopes to have the grill on the market by spring of 2010 with an estimated retail price of $20 to $25. This is designed for people looking to buy their first grill or for people looking for a smaller, more portable grill made specifically to be used with the FlameDisk.

About the size of a paper plate, FlameDisk users simply peel back the lid, light it through one of the outside holes, and they get a fire for at least 40 minutes — long enough to grill their tailgating favorites. Once the grilling is done, FlameDisk cools down quickly so tailgaters may quickly transition from parking lot to stadium seating.

FlameDisk also produces 90 percent fewer pollutants than charcoal, is recyclable and is made from a renewable resource. And it’s all in one tin that takes up no more room than a stack of plates. And there’s no need to remember matches; there’s one packed inside.

Sologear LLC was recently awarded Qualified New Business Venture certification from the state of Wisconsin. This designation allowed investors in Sologear to be eligible for 25 percent state investment tax credits.

Sologear has completed three rounds of investments totaling $4.6 million to date. It is raising an additional $5 million to fund new product development and upfront marketing investments over the next two years.

— Gilbert is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.