The Vall Iliev Story
Watch the story of Vall Iliev's escape from communist Bulgaria in 1977 to find his way to Stow, Ohio in the United States. Vall's engineering expertise and experience led him to start ShotStop Ballistics and to develop Duritium® Technology which makes advanced body armor lighter, thinner and more durable than anything in the world.
Announcer: Born in Bulgaria in 1955 near the capital city of Sofia, Vall Iliev had a natural ability for creativity, invention and problem solving. His father, a jet pilot trainer, his mother a nurse, Vall grew up in a seemingly normal childhood. But the way of life for most Bulgarians the past two decades had been difficult. Since post-World War II, Bulgaria was under communist rule and was choked by the oppressive hands of the Soviet Union.
While Ilievs and their fellow countrymen persevered under communist rule, a watershed moment in Vall’s young life happened late in 1963.
Vall: When I was in grade school, I remember my father and his friends used to meet often and discuss politics in general, communism and what the rules and regulations are.
In one of the meetings, I remember them being more concerned than I had ever seen, all of them. And that’s when they said, “Kennedy is shot.” So, I was wondering, who is Kennedy? And they were saying, “Well, Khrushchev is going to destroy the world now.” So, that’s what kind of started the whole process of thinking that there’s something more than what the communist are telling us, that it’s the best possible world.
That’s when I started researching, tried to get primarily on short wave radio, information about the West.
Escape From Bulgaria
Announcer: While attending university, communist authorities took notice of Vall and his classmates, who were writing papers and voicing their opinion on communism. It became a dangerous enough situation that Vall had no other choice but to escape to the West.
After riding a train out of Bulgaria, Vall’s borrowed passport would get him as far as Hungary. It was this part of the escape which would prove to be the most dangerous.
Vall: I went through Romania, then Yugoslavia, then Hungary, based on the permissions on my friend’s passport that I borrowed. And in Hungary, I had to change the stamp that permits me to go from Hungary to Yugoslavia.
So, I spent a week in Budapest working on a stamp and I thought I had it perfect. So, on the train, typically they stop the train at the border and they would have an officer of the Hungarian Army with two Russian soldiers check everybody’s documents and luggage and everything.
So, the officer, the Hungarian officer that showed up, was a major and he was a little ahead of the Russian soldiers that were carrying Kalashnikovs and he looked at my passport and you could tell on his face that, “Kid, this is just not…”
So, the Russians came real quick and he told them in Russian that everything is fine. It’s worth noting that the Russians would, if they kill or arrest somebody, they would get a month’s vacation and a cow as a bonus to their efforts, so they were kind of eager to catch somebody. But that major helped me, and I’ve been counting my blessings since.
And actually, that’s what primarily started ShotStop®.
The Genesis for ShotStop®
I basically felt since then that whatever I do going forward would have to be relevant to helping humanity and saving lives, just like that officer saved my life, definitely, at the time. That’s always been on my mind, going forward in everything I did.
Well, ShotStop® was developed out of necessity that we discovered when we did a project for FBI, when they requested we design and engineer a foldable, tactical shield for their officers. The weight was a huge problem. They were hoping to get a 3-1/2 pound shield, but with the technology available at the time, it was more like 8, 9 pounds. That kind of got our attention on looking closer into the advanced armor industry to see why isn’t there a lighter, better material out there.
Then by that time, we had a contract with Win Development, of all places, as a specialty engineering firm, where we were able to submit ballistic board for their safe rooms in the Macau Resort and that essentially brought in about a million dollars, which funded the start of the ShotStop®.
Well, first, about ShotStop®, we formed the company a little bit different than most companies. We’re looking for small investors to join us with expertise to help the business grow, rather than going the traditional venture capital. So, now we have a large number of experts that are truly committed to helping us save lives.
Going forward, we will continue advancing our technology and making products that are lighter weight and more competitive in the marketplace and continue saving lives through those technologies and manufacturing capabilities, military, law enforcement, as well as infrastructure markets.
Duritium® was developed for the need of having a raw material that is not chemically falling apart, as most of the competitor’s materials did. We developed Duritium® formulas, three of them, that are centered around advanced polymer technologies and utilizing molecular structure, manipulations, to have the long-chains needed for Duritium® to be strong and resistant to impact.
That’s how that was started, and it was developed over four or five years now and we’re implementing now the raw material as well as manufacturing technologies that are patented, patent pending, as well as proprietary, to keep advancing our armor and protection.