HILLIARD – As she prepares to launch the product she invented, 1998 Sidney High School alumna Tizzie Nuss’ goal is to go out of business.
Nuss is the founder of The Spark Project, which has created bullet-resistant, folder-sized Spark Shields that are designed to protect children against gun violence. She’s finalizing prototypes but hasn’t set a launch date for her patent pending product.
While she ultimately wants to see an end to gun violence, which would put her company out of business, Nuss said she felt a calling to offer a solution that for now could protect children from school shootings and spark conversations.
“God has put me on this mission, and this is what I’m supposed to do,” she said.
“We have to start with something, and this is where I’m starting.”
Nuss’ plan to create a product that would protect children began five years ago while discussing school shootings with two former coworkers at lunch. The group developed some ideas but went their own ways before finalizing a product.
Still, Nuss felt she needed to continue working on the idea. She didn’t know how to proceed, but a series of signs compelled her to push forward.
“I knew that this was why I was put on this Earth,” she said.
The final sign – the one that convinced her to devote herself to the project – came on Oct. 5, 2017 … the day she lost her eyesight.
“It was a horrific experience,” Nuss said. “It was the biggest sign that I could have got.”
Nuss’ vision was gone for almost two days. Doctors told the mother of two – now 12-year-old son Nevin and 9-year-old daughter Kallie – her blindness was the result of a horrible infection, but they couldn’t explain how she contracted it.
“For me, I know how I got it,” she said.
Nuss made a lot of promises during her ordeal – promises she said she’ll always keep.
“It was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever been through,” said Nuss, who has completely regained her eyesight. “It was really scary not being sure if I was going to see my kids’ faces again, if I was going to see my husband’s face again.”
Nuss had no experience as an entrepreneur and no ballistics experience, but she got to work. She signed up for a business planning class and started to see things begin to fall into place – albeit with more tragedy as school shootings continued across the nation.
Since the April 20, 1999, shooting at Columbine High School in which 12 students and one teacher died, the Washington Post reported there have been more than 250 school shootings in the United States.
“I have a real sense of urgency to get this product out there that can help our children,” Nuss said.
During a business planning course through the Small Business Development Center at Columbus State Community College, Nuss felt anxiety as classmates described their business plans for fun ventures like a beauty bus and a restaurant. She, meanwhile, was preparing to talk about the horrors of school shootings.
“Everyone was just really quiet,” she said of the reaction she received. “I’ll never forget it. It was like you could hear a pin drop.”
The next day, Feb. 14, 2018, 17 people – 14 students and three adults – died in a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“There was no turning back,” Nuss said. “I knew this is why I’m here.”
The following week, a classmate gave Nuss contact information for Steve Sauer, an industrial designer for Bigger Tuna, a Columbus-based product development team.
“It’s actually been a really cool process,” said Sauer, who has more than 20 years of experience as a professional industrial designer. “Tizzie is kind of a model client. She’s very much a go-getter, and when information comes up about a direction change or especially when we need to talk to an expert, she will take it upon herself to track that person down.
“She’s got a very positive personality. She really wants to understand the process, and she’s eager to learn.”
With the help of Bigger Tuna and a ballistics expert who works at The Ohio State University’s Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence, Nuss has developed a high density polyethylene shield that could help protect students during a school shooting. The American-made product is 14.25 inches tall, 10 inches wide, 0.55 inches thick and weighs 20 ounces. An outer case can be personalized, which Nuss hopes will help parents engage with their children and make conversations about gun violence and lockdown drills a little less scary.
There’s no group that oversees the effectiveness of products like Nuss’ Spark Shields, but she has sought out testing to ensure her product works as intended. In testing at Ohio State, the Spark Shields have stopped all 46 bullets fired at them, establishing a 98 percent confidence level that the armor will stop 90 percent of projectiles.
“A lot of products I work on are not life-changing,” Sauer said. “This is absolutely a life-changing product.
“The gravity of the project, it’s kind of a heavy mental lift, having the understanding that we’re working on a product that’s potentially saving children’s lives.”
Nuss has devoted herself to getting the Spark Shields to the market and will leave her full-time job in human resources at the end of the month so she can focus on her product. She will launch a crowd-funding campaign on Feb. 25 to help finance the project.
“I need some help from other resources to get this thing off the ground,” she said.
Her plan is to sell her Spark Shields directly to consumers, but she hasn’t decided on a price point yet.
She’s also considering options for donating a portion of her proceeds to a group that works to end gun violence. Additionally, she wants to find a way to work with parents, educators and first responders to create a forum to address the gun violence problem.
“I think Tizzie is a remarkable lady, and she is very, very driven,” Sauer said. “She’s trying to change some of the conversations around school shootings.
“She’s putting the product out there to start the conversation about some of these things that are hard to talk about.”
For more information about The Spark Project, visit its website at www.sparkproject.us, its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thespkpjt/ or its Instagram page at www.instagram.com/thespkpjt/.
Reach this writer at [email protected] or 937-538-4824.