Sierra Madre Research - Business Matters - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Sierra Madre Research - Business Matters

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VICKSBURG, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

Helping impoverished people in Central America and camping: a Vicksburg mechanical engineer has combined those two passions with his faith in Jesus Christ to form an outdoor equipment company.

Richard Rhett's inspiration to start Sierra Madre Research followed a medical mission to Honduras in 2009. He was less than satisfied with the camping gear he brought on the trip and his inner-engineer kicked into gear.

"I enjoy taking things and making them better, that's what I'm fueled by," Rhett said.

The better gear came in the form of a unique hammock that Rhett calls the "Nube" (Nu-bay). Nube is Spanish for "cloud", and Rhett says the suspended shelter is intended as a "cloud of protection".

Off the ground, Rhett says the 3-in-1 shelter protects from insects, rain and wind, while securing a camper's equipment.

However, Rhett left Honduras with more than just an idea for a new-and-improved camping experience.

"We saw that 80 percent of these people were suffering from water-borne illness," Rhett said.  "It was a hard thing to realize that I was coming from somewhere that never really second-guessed where the next drop of water was coming from."

It was then that Rhett's faith brought his two ideas together.

"Praying through that last day (of the medical mission), God basically formulated the idea of the business that would use the profit from the business to drill clean water wells for those people in Honduras," Rhett said.

In order to achieve that profit SMR was born and by 2012 Rhett was producing his Pares hammock system. Rhett would turn to modern technology to raise capital for his next project, the Nube, by using crowd-sourcing on the website Kickstarter.

"People from all over the world can view your product and decide whether or not they want to back it," Rhett explained.

Backers liked what they saw and Rhett says within three days they had blown through their initial crowd funding goal of $30,000. When their Kickstarter campaign expired on the morning of September 11, they had received $167,226 from 569 separate "backers".

While every dollar helps them produce more Nubes it also helps Richard and Juli, his wife and chief marketing officer, reach another goal.

"Right now, we've passed six water wells that we're able to drill, that's a percentage of our profit," Richard Rhett said.

SMR's camping gear not only means clean water for poor communities in Guatemala and Honduras, but it also means jobs for locals involved in a sewing ministry in Managua, Nicaragua. SMR employs eight people and they hope to double that workforce in the near future to hand-make SMR's hammocks and shelters.  

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