This Cincinnati Startup is Creating the World’s Smallest Hands-Free Descent Device

bailout systems logo and fire fighter rappelling from a building

From firefighters to arborists, Bailout Systems has revolutionized how we keep workers safe

You’ve seen it in the movies countless times: firefighters unfurl their massive rope to rappel down the side of a burning building. It’s a common idea for the same reason it’s in need of a change: it’s been around for decades. But Cincinnati startup Bailout Systems wants to set a new precedent with a device that could change safety for not only firefighters, but dozens of other industries as well.

“We created the world’s smallest hands-free descent device,” said founder and CEO Michael Ragsdale. “I always tell people to think James Bond meets Batman. It’s a fall-safety device that you can literally fit in your pocket, which was always our goal. We originally designed it for the fire industry, and then people started telling us all the other areas where the product would be a great fit. Every time I pitch, people are telling me how they can use the technology.”

Ragsdale is a Navy veteran who started the idea after a Navy friend became a firefighter after the service. He told Ragsdale the tragic story of Black Sunday, a day in New York City when three firefighters died on the job. He suggested that Ragsdale use his resources, background and can-do attitude to develop something to help firefighters like him. Since developing Bailout’s system, he’s come to realize that the product can improve safety in a variety of industries, including arborists, police, military, roofing, construction and more.

“We had to get rid of the big, traditional rope, so we found a 6-millimeter rope that holds 5,000 pounds,” he said. “I started assembling a team here in Cincinnati, and we’ve spent the last eight years building a device the size of a hockey puck that allows the user to clip, jump and lower to the ground hands-free.”

Bailout’s current trajectory is more than just eight years in the making. Ragsdale went back to school after he left the Navy, attending the University of Cincinnati and learning to be an entrepreneur alongside teenagers in his classes — some of whom are now on his team. Now, the company is preparing its prototypes and readying for a planned commercial launch in June. Having navigated the system on his own without much experience, Ragsdale said he’s as excited to keep growing and learning as he is to finally launch.

“For me, this isn’t just about the product, it’s about me and the company growing into something bigger,” he said. “This process is going to take a long time, and there aren’t any shortcuts. So while I’m developing this product, I’m developing myself. I used to train for Ironman triathlons, and that training is a lot like what we’re doing now. I hope to be able to look back on this process someday when we’re in multiple markets and succeeding. It’s tough, but I like that part of it. I’m passionate about everything I get to learn and all we’re going through to get to market.”

As a Cincinnati-area native who, at one point, thought he would “never come back” to the state, Ragsdale has fallen back in love with Ohio since returning from the Navy. Not only has he found a fit with the entrepreneurial and manufacturing community, but the state and its resources have been crucial to Bailout Systems as well. The company has found funding without diluting itself, including $200,000 from the Ohio Third Frontier’s Technology Validation and Startup Fund. Now, he’s excited to be part of a new wave of companies who are showing the world why Ohio has always been and still is the home of innovation.

“Watching how it has evolved and grown with all the companies and networking opportunities, Ohio is the best kept secret in the country for startups and developing products,” he said. “You have huge industries here, from Fortune 500 companies to tech companies. Any chance I get to show what Ohio has to offer, I take it. Hopefully people see our story and think, ‘If I have an idea, I can follow what he did.’ There’s all this help out there, and some people have no idea. My goal is to not only make our products in Ohio, but to help bring industry here and encourage other people to make and develop real products here.”

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