Success Story: Ohio

By Dan O’Brien

2014--12-22_BoloStickPolice Officer Invents ‘Bolo Stick’ to Protect Schools

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The device is remarkably simple: a steel bracket and anchor pin that affixes to the base of a door, preventing an intruder from opening or forcing that door open.

What’s even more remarkable is that no one else has thought of it until now.

“I’ve been a police officer for 28 years, I’m an instructor at the police academy,” says William Barna, inventor and owner of the Bolo Stick, a security tool that he is marketing to local schools and hopes to sell across the country. The name of the product is derived from a common police term, “Bolo,” short for “be on the lookout.” 

Over the last several years, Barna, a resident of Howland, became interested in how school systems responded to security threats, such as a potential gunman in the building. All followed the “Alice” plan, an acronym for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate. “They would shut the doors, lock them, shut the lights and pile desks and chairs in front of the door to make it harder for an intruder to come in.”

Still, Barna found that even during a lockdown, a gunman could break a window and unlock the door, forcing an entry into a classroom or an office.

His solution was to manufacture a device that is easy, simple to use, and durable enough to withstand any type of forced entry. With the help of the Ohio Small Business Development Center at Youngstown State University, Bolo Stick LLC was born.

The product, officially launched Thursday morning at YSU’s Williamson College of Business Administration, consists of a kit that includes just two bolts, a steel bracket, a thick steel peg and a floor anchor. The bracket is mounted at the base of the door, out of reach, and is aligned with a hole drilled into the floor where a steel anchor casing is inserted. In case of an emergency, the door is locked, and the teacher inserts the peg through the bracket into the floor.

“It’s half-inch solid steel, and it’s good for over two tons of force,” Barna said. Also, the device is easily disengaged from the inside to effect a speedy evacuation. “Round peg, round hole. There’s no special training required.”

So far, the Trumbull County Career and Technical Center has Bolo Sticks installed on its classroom doors, while the school districts of Newton Falls, Lordstown and Niles have ordered the product for their buildings, Barna reports.

The product is 100% American made and is fabricated in Masury, Barna says, while some of the hardware is supplied by Hudson Fastners, a local portfolio company of the Youngstown Business Incubator.

Barna says he’s spent the last year and-a-half tweaking the product and has worked closely with the staff at the Ohio SBDC to develop a marketing, pricing and distribution strategy. What is most appealing about the plan is that the product can be adapted for other security needs for businesses or other institutions.

Most of the company’s marketing is through its website and Facebook, Barna notes, and credits the SBDC for its help in launching the product. The units sell for $79.99 apiece, but reduced rates are available for bulk orders.

Bill Oliver, a business counselor for the Ohio SBDC, says Barna’s product possesses all the ingredients for a successful business that has unlimited market potential.

“Everything about it makes it a good product,” he says. “There’s certainly a need out there and you know what the market is.”

SBDC Director Patricia Veisz says Barna’s experience in law enforcement gives him an insight into public safety and what is required in the market. “He has a real passion. The reason for doing this is that it makes a difference.”

Veisz says the university is always enthusiastic about helping companies such as Bolo Stick succeed. “We’re always pleased to help clients like this because they’re inventors, and sometimes the inventors need help getting it to market.”

Pictured: William Barna, inventor and owner of the Bolo Stick.

Copyright 2014, The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.