Business overcomes challenges to help special needs clients

July 18, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored by Cain Ellsworth & Company LLP.

Twin brothers Jonathan and Karl Eckrich got into business to meet the needs of people who struggle with even the most basic communication.

Their company, Adaptivation Inc., started in 1992 after Karl worked as a technician at a Des Moines facility “that had a population of adults with severe and profound disabilities,” Jonathan Eckrich said. “And the way they were doing things was just archaic, 1940s. And he thought there had to be a better way.”

The brothers, who grew up in Aberdeen, used their abilities to create solutions. Karl was working on his doctorate, and Jonathan was working for an engineering company at the time. They came together to create Adaptivation.

Their breakthrough products were the Taction Pad that pairs with the VoicePal to produce a voice output, allowing people to express a basic need by placing a hand on whatever object the Taction Pad is adhered to.

“Prior to that, there really wasn’t an effective, appropriate mechanism to express those basic needs,” Eckrich said.

The business began in an Iowa State University incubator in Ames and moved to Sioux Falls in 1997. Its office is at 2305 W. 50th St.

“We grew up here, and we like it,” Eckrich said. “Our family is South Dakota, and this is where we wanted to raise our children, as well as it’s a positive business environment with low operating cost.”

The company has grown to offer a broad line of products designed for people who struggle to communicate. It largely sells to school districts, although hospitals and families are clients too.

“I just remember Karl always coming up with lots of ideas,” said Kevin Cain, managing partner of Cain Ellsworth & Co. LLP, who became the company’s accountant shortly after it was founded.

“He was always trying to help people with disabilities, and he came up with ways for them to communicate with other people. That was his focus. They’re passionate about finding solutions for people.”

In August 1998, though, tragedy struck the family. Karl was seriously injured in a skydiving accident and passed away three years later.

“After my brother’s accident, Kevin was in the office with me and spent an entire day helping me understand the business side of the company because I had never done it. That was my brother’s job,” Eckrich said. “It was extremely important to help me and give me the minimum guidance I needed to keep this going after that devastating trauma.”

At the time, Cain Ellsworth was helping Adaptivation with tax work but dug into the financials with Jonathan to get him on the right track.

“We trained him on invoicing and payroll, and he was doing it mostly himself,” Cain said. “He’s smart and learns fast and took it all on.”

There would be more challenges ahead, though.

Eckrich eventually realized $400,000 had gone missing over six years, as responsibilities were transferred internally after Karl’s accident.

“It almost destroyed this company,” he said. “It was very painful.”

Cain Ellsworth connected him with a forensic accountant, but “it was tough,” Cain said. “There was nothing we could do other than help him get through things, and that’s what we tried to do. They were limited financially in what they could do for a long time.”

That included professional services. Eckrich left Cain Ellsworth for another accountant who charged less.

“We parted on very friendly terms,” Cain said. “I told him I understood why he was doing it, and I don’t ever take it personally. It made it easier for him to come back, I think.”

Once the business regained more solid financial footing, Eckrich changed accountants again.

“The thing is they’re such professionals. They really know their stuff. And you get what you pay for,” he said.

“While the other accountant I had for three years did their job, they did the minimum requirement. I was just a number to them, and I don’t feel like a number at Cain Ellsworth. And they’re really responsive. I get same-day response.”

One approach that builds the relationship is bundling agreements with unlimited phone calls, Cain said.

“It’s the little bills that destroy people’s trust, things for some little project. We decided we’re not doing that to people. Nobody abuses it, and that way we hear about things in a timely way. That’s what we do with Jon. He can call us anytime about anything.”

Eckrich now is back to serving those who inspired him to help start the business in the first place. While his business is leaner than it once was, he has simplified it in a way that works for him.

“He’s just smart, ethical and humble, and it’s a pleasure to work with people like that,” Cain said. “They’ve had more than their share of tragedy and bad deals, and it’s a testament to Jon he keeps such a great attitude about things.”

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Business overcomes challenges to help special needs clients

Twin brothers got into business to meet the needs of people who struggle with even the most basic communication, but the business’ journey also presented its share of challenges.

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