On the Go in LA: 121C

Startup 121C looks to get leg up with skateboards made with salvaged carbon fiber.

Originally published September 25, 2017 in the Los Angeles Business Journal.

The aerospace industry throws away thousands of pounds of expensive carbon fiber each year.

That seems like a missed business opportunity to recent USC graduate Ryan Olliges.

His startup, 121C Inc., was founded to exploit the market inefficiency, and has signed multiyear contracts with undisclosed local rocket manufactures to buy carbon scrap and recycle the material into skateboards and longboards.

“We recycle from new space companies, from the production lines of modern rockets,” he said. “Sometimes it’s too small of pieces for them to use, sometimes its dated material which is beyond the spec of aerospace parts but still perfectly fine to make skateboards with.”

121C of Gardena buys about 2,500 pounds of carbon fiber a month – enough to press out 450 skateboard decks that sell for anywhere from $100 to $275. The decks are the main component of a skateboard. The company sells some standalone decks without mounts and wheels, and also offers some fully assembled products.

Sales are strong, said Olliges, with 121C generating about $100,000 a month in revenue, mostly through online retail. He expects a boost as the year-end holiday’s approach.

“We’ve been selling through (inventory) pretty much as fast as we can make,” he said. “We keep ramping up production and our sales keep increasing.”

121C was co-founded in 2015, and the name refers to 121 degrees Celsius, the temperature required to harden the epoxy that binds carbon fiber.

Olliges is a 2016 aerospace engineering graduate of USC, while one co-founder, Jaysen Harris, formerly worked as a health care IT specialist, and another, Greg Autry, is an assistant professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business.

The company has raised more than $174,000 over three Kickstarter crowdfunding campaigns, $60,000 from its founding team, and is nearing the closure of a $1 million seed round, Olliges said. The startup plans to use money raised from Kickstarter preorders and investments to buy equipment to create tooling for future products.

The company’s least-expensive carbon-fiber skateboard deck is around average for the industry at about $100, while its most expensive is on the upper end of the market for longboards at $275, said Richard Pyles, president of Hacienda Heights-based skateboard manufacturer Made in Mars Inc.

“It’s toward the upper end, but it’s not unheard of,” he said. “There’s a market, it just becomes more and more niche as you move up in price.”

Olliges said his company aims to manufacturer more than just longboards, including consumer products such as ceiling fan blades, standing desks and conference tables.

“The real reason we are raising a lot of money is to expand past longboards,” Olliges said.

Startup Feature: Handstand

WHO THEY ARE

“Handstand is a trainer/instructor on-demand app that makes it easy for even the busiest of people to workout effectively. Our trainers provide all the equipment if you choose to workout at home or a park, or you can visit a partner gym on our app. Some people even use their apartment gym. We’re any time and any place. We have session types that range from Pilates, Yoga, Boxing, Tone Up Butt, Legs, & Core classes. It’s your workout on demand from the best trainers in your city.”

HOW HANDSTAND WAS BORN  aa2

I was a workout addict and played sports for years, but when you enter the real world, your time for fitness and other things becomes limited. To make it short, I just wanted a workout when I wanted it – and I wanted results. I didn’t have time to make it to a lot of classes that I wanted, and even if I did, it was stressful, not working. So I hired my first trainer, learned about the industry, and when the idea hit me, I was paranoid, quit my job, launched a website, joined Science Inc., a tech incubator in Santa Monica, and got started.”

MOST REWARDING STARTUP EXPERIENCE  

All of the texts, emails, calls, notes, reviews, everything from your customers and for us, our trainers, about how much our product has changed their lives. They’re changing their health, which changes lives. We’re making it efficient, convenient, affordable, accessible, and therefore, possible for anyone.”

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

There are lots of obstacles daily, hourly, weekly – and they’ll never stop, because we’ll keep pushing the envelope. Take a look at Uber – they face obstacles to this day. I keep pushing – some great advice from my dad. If someone says no, ask again, ask someone else, do it yourself. Just find a way to do it.”

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS aa3

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, I’d say – don’t be scared to get your idea out there. Pitch it, ask questions and get criticism. No one is going to steal your idea. And if you’re scared they will, then you had better get started, right? Make a website tomorrow. Squarespace is awesome.”

Startup Feature: Speakeasy Briefs

WHO THEY ARE

Speakeasy Briefs is premium men’s boxer-briefs with a secret pocket.  This pocket is ideal for carrying a passport, money or a hip flask.”

HOW SPEAKEASY WAS BORN

“Speakeasy Briefs was launched on Kickstarter in May of 2013.  It raised $32,616 in a 30 day campaign, which was one of the 30 most funded fashion campaigns in the history of Kickstarter at the time of its funding.”

RECENT SUCCESS

“Speakeasy Briefs has been featured in several prominent media outlets, including Forbes, NPR and Fox News.”

MOST REWARDING STARTUP EXPERIENCE  

“Entrepreneurship activates a part of your brain that you didn’t even know existed.  Bringing your ideas into real products that customers love is incredibly fulfilling.”

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

“Too many to count.  Our supply chain fell through with 5 days left in our Kickstarter campaign.  We had to figure out how to create the product all over again, after we’d sold 1,500 pairs of briefs.  I was literally running around San Francisco knocking on factory doors to find someone who could create our product.”

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS

“It is not the entrepreneur’s job to do every job, it is the entrepreneur’s job to build the company.  At first, you will have to do every job, but this will not scale.  Focus on replacing yourself at every level you can, and empowering others to own their aspect of the business.  It takes years to be able to pay yourself what you are worth, so align your expectations accordingly.  If you aren’t ready for 1,000 days of poverty, ask yourself if this is really what you want to pursue.”

 

 

Startup Feature: Fulfilling Catering

WHAT THEY DO

“Fulfilling is revolutionizing how food is consumed in America—for every meal purchased, we donate one meal to someone in need. Operating in every major US Market, Fulfilling books food trucks for private events and schedules trucks at corporate office parks that lack food amenities.”

HOW FULFILLING WAS BORN  

“After studying entrepreneurship at USC, I spent several years in the food truck industry managing events, attending food truck festivals and sampling various cuisines. While the food truck industry temporarily satisfied my palate for an exciting, innovative career, I again grew hungry. Looking to fill this void, I sought to develop a business built on a sense of purpose.

It was during this time that I met the founder of ‘Mary’s Meals’ and learned about their mission to solve world hunger as documented in Child 31. I was struck by the staggering problem of childhood hunger against the backdrop of plenty that surrounded me. Inspired by the vision, I devised the foundation for a new business venture: one meal donated for each meal sold.”

RECENT SUCCESSES

“Fulfilling recently donated our 75,000th meal, and reached a milestone of managing 50 events per week.”

MOST REWARDING PART OF BUILDING A STARTUP  Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 2.36.20 PM

“Creating a culture.

Having experienced the confinement of working for organizations that lack a clearly defined purpose or direction, I have a thorough understanding of the importance of company culture.

Combining this passion with my natural disposition as big picture thinker has made engineering the culture, vision and purpose of Fulfilling very enjoyable.”

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES 

“Our website application took much longer to build than expected.

About 1 year after launching the business, we were growing quickly and didn’t have the infrastructure to handle the amount of events we were managing. I mapped out an application that organizes the data and automates the processes involved in scheduling events. I was anxious to get the application built and jumped the gun on hiring a development team. Unfortunately, “It takes twice as long as costs twice as much” held true. The company I hired overpromised and under delivered, and 4 months after the expected delivery date, we were still without a functional product.

We ended up hiring a new developer to pick up where to old one left. In the meanwhile I improvised, hiring an admin assistant to help with the overload in work.”

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS

“Build a team of people who share your vision and start window-shopping immediately. Anticipate potential needs and start talking with potential partners—marketing companies, web development companies, business partners, etc—long before you’re ready to bring them aboard. Finding the right people to work with takes longer than expected. Get the conversations going early so that when the time comes to utilize their services, the research phase is already handled and you just need to pull the trigger. startupsecrets_share

Careers are too short to learn everything through trial and error, which is why it’s important to surround yourself with a team of mentors. This is as true for business as it is for life. In terms of business, develop a network of advisors with diverse backgrounds. Ideally, have a separate mentor for each of the following areas—marketing strategy, technology/logistics management, tax/accounting, law, fundraising, and management. Obviously that won’t be possible when you’re first starting off, but as your network grows, the variety of industries you’re tied to will follow.”

 

 

 

 

Startup Feature: 121C Boards

WHAT THEY DO

“121C collects waste carbon fiber from companies in the aerospace industry and upcycles the material to make the highest quality skateboards on the market. Our boards are light, incredibly strong and a blast to  ride.”

HOW 121C WAS BORN

“At first I wanted to make carbon fiber skateboards with the scrap that the rocket lab was generating, and when I realized how big of a problem carbon waste was for the industry, I knew I had to start a business.”

MOST REWARDING STARTUP EXPERIENCE

“We recently had a successful Kickstarter campaign for $44,000 and have been signing on new companies to collect material from. We’ve also been featured in articles on USC’s website.”

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

“Half way through our kickstarter campaign, our manufacturer bailed on us and we had to lease a facility and bring everything in house. At first, this was a challenge, but it ended up being a blessing. “

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS

“Be prepared to work a ton.”

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Startup Feature: Cropsticks


Cropsticks

Interview with co-founder Jay Chang


WHAT THEY DO

“Cropsticks are eco-friendly, “mind-blowing” disposable chopsticks. It’s the utensil you’ve always known, made better.”

CROP PRIMARY

c2HOW CROPSTICKS WAS BORN

“Chopsticks were invented in ancient China as early as the Shang dynasty (1766-1122 BCE) and possibly even earlier during the Xia dynasty. In nearly 4000 years, no one has truly innovated the way we use chopsticks. The idea for Cropsticks first came to inventor Mylen Fe Yamamoto as she was on a flight to Asia in April 2015 and her chopsticks kept rolling off the dirty tray table. She thought that there must be an easier way to keep her chopsticks in place.

Then the horizontal breakaway holder was born! After doing more research, she found out that over 20 millions trees go into production to create the wooden disposable utensil. So it became a goal to produce it sustainably from fast growing bamboo. Mylen and Jay met in 2013 when Jay was producing the DiscoverMe conference. Jay’s family background has been in manufacturing bamboo housewares for the past 15+ years through TotallyBamboo.”

MOST REWARDING STARTUP EXPERIENCE

“Seeing thoughts become reality and it helps when you like the people you work with.”

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

“We’ve been working on Cropsticks since April last year. So when the chopstick meme of our similar idea went viral last month and challenged our product, we knew it was important to launch fast.”

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS

“Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid to get out there and talk to your first customers. Don’t be afraid that people will steal your idea. Don’t be afraid someone else is better than you or will beat you to market. Be cognizant of all of those things and use them to your advantage to clearly articulate your unique value proposition, and build the best product you can to solve your customer’s pain.”

c1SUCCESS STORIES

 

 

– Kickstarter at 40% in 5 days

– Interest from angel investors potential distribution partners and major restaurant chains

– Featured on NBC, NextShark, Hawaii Magazine, KITV4 ABC, Hawaii News Now and Folic Hawaii 

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Startup Success Spotlight: HexCare CEO Alex Wormuth

 

alex2USC and Blackstone Launchpad alumnus Alex Wormuth, founder and CEO of HexCare, was one among a select group of top-tier finalists who made it to the closing rounds of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA).

After winning the regional competition, HexCare advanced to the national finals in Miami, Florida.

Alex shared details about his experience at the GSEA. He said, “going through this process has taught me a lot about communicating my ideas and passions.”

The competition required business pitches from contending student founders and CEOs. While pitching is common practice at most startup competitions, the value of the exercise extends beyond its business utility.

Alex said, “pitching isn’t just about competition or money, it’s about sharing your ideas and passions with others. It’s a chance to connect others to your vision and excite them about it.”

Student entrepreneurs and startup founders enjoyed the opportunity to interact with one another throughout the course of the competition. Alex: “I was excited to meet other young entrepreneurs who are taking risks and making their ideas a reality.”

Congratulations to Alex and HexCare on their successful journey at the GSEA.

Startup Feature: Stunt Players


Stunt Players

Interview with CEO Hunter Crowder


WHAT THEY DO

“Stunt Players allows stunt performers to promote themselves to coordinators, directors, and producers to be hired for work in the film and television industry.  By signing up for the service, members are placed in an online database made easily accessible and searchable by industry professionals.  Many of the stunt performers seen in films like Fast and the Furious and Pirates of the Caribbean have been hired through Stunt Players.”INC

HOW STUNT PLAYERS WAS BORN

“My father, Wally Crowder, a stunt coordinator and director, originally founded the company two decades ago.  He helped advance the stunt industry by providing coordinators with a hardcopy directory allowing them to browse through stunt performers and hire them based on stats and abilities.

This altered the way stunt people would go about getting work – typically crashing sets and hustling coordinators with their headshots and resumes.  However, due to the work my father was taking on as a coordinator, he decided to shut down the business.  As an actor, I was lucky enough to score a national commercial campaign and purchase the company from him.  I took over as CEO to revitalize Stunt Players as a contemporary web platform.”

MOST REWARDING STARTUP EXPERIENCESPD_STICKER

“Contributing to an industry that has become my life.  I am obsessed with the film industry and find it my duty to give back in any way I can.  I grew up around stunt people and it only made sense that I help build something useful for those I believe to be the hardest working, most under-appreciated heroes in entertainment.”

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

“I am a film-lover and cinephile more so than I am an entrepreneur.  While I have a sharp focus on what Stunt Players must innovate and execute, the biggest obstacles are technical ones.  Fortunately, I work with an incredible development team that has become my “pit crew.”  No production succeeds without a reliable cast and crew, even behind the scenes.”

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS

Build something that you are passionate about, something that you are obsessed with.  If you aren’t obsessed, don’t waste the time.  And then you must love it more than anything else.  I get to work with performers who crash cars, light themselves on fire, and jump from buildings.  It’s full throttle… but I love it.

stunt_players_shareSTARTUP VICTORIES

“The launch of our new website: stuntplayers.com
I won 1st Place in the Regional Los Angeles GSEA (Global Student Entrepreneur Awards) Competition.  We are also proud to have hosted two events in the past year that have brought together a total of over one-thousand stunt performers to mix, mingle, and make connections with working coordinators.  Many of which have gone on to book work on movies and television shows.”

Startup Feature: Pulp Pantry

Want to know what it takes to build a successful startup? The Blackstone Launchpad’s startup feature series showcases USC’s most accomplished startups and their innovative founders.


Pulp Pantry

Interview with CEO Kaitlin Mogentale


WHAT THEY DO

“Pulp Pantry is rethinking what it means to produce good food with sustainability, local sourcing and social impact as top priorities. We work with commercial juiceries to turn organic vegetable and nut pulp into superior delicious, healthy products that are fit for a variety of restricted diets, armed with a mission to bridge the gap between food waste and food insecurity. We’re creating food that’s good for you and good for our collective environment.”

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HOW PULP PANTRY WAS BORN

“Pulp Pantry was born from a simple ah-ha moment, when I watched a friend juice a carrot in my final year at USC. I was dumbfounded by the relatively small amount of liquid that resulted, leaving behind a beautiful heap of vibrant, fresh carrot pulp. My friend, knowing that I was already deep in the zero-waste mindset, admitted that she had never known what to do with the pulp (ultimately, sending it to the trash) and let me take it home to experiment with.

I made my first carrot cake cookies, and they were delicious! My mind was whizzing thinking about the issue of food waste on a larger scale, and I began to consider how I might help large food producers such as commercial juiceries manage their organic waste. The next day, I called up 10 juiceries in the area to see what they were doing with their pulp. All were sending it to the landfill. Then I asked if they would let me come to collect pulp, which they were happy to do. And thus, the Pulp ideation process began.”

MOST REWARDING STARTUP EXPERIENCE 

“The product is a direct result of a passion for sustainability and a desire to spread the mission and vision for a more equitable and efficient food system. Connecting with people who are also passionate about making a difference in their community has been by far the most rewarding aspect of all of this; there is so much power in the collective impact our actions may have with some directed and focused energy.”

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OVERCOMING OBSTACLES

“The first obstacle for me was to drop the structured and certain life I’d become so used to living, which I was eager to do, but at the same time frightened. I am full of positive but frazzled energy, which is a wonderful thing that I embrace in many cases, but not so great when you need to prioritize and organize your self-directed tasks. Secondly, I understand now that being a woman entrepreneur does come with significant challenges. You have to demand respect, but the first part of that is taking yourself and your business seriously.”

ADVICE TO ENTREPRENEURS 

“Test your ideas and prototypes early on and in front of potential customers. Don’t be afraid to share your work openly and with the courage to accept feedback (be it negative or positive). Continue to transition and redefine your products as you collect consumer feedback. This way, you can make sure that your products are truly filling an unmet need.

I have created some crazy things in my kitchen and I am thankful for the many USC friends and roommates who came back to try my iterations over and over again. Mapping out the people and resources in your network is also incredibly helpful, because quickly you’ll feel less overwhelmed knowing you can draw on them for support. Actually, it’s been great to start thinking about going through life in that way – to really consider the different skills and resources we all bring to the table and then try to connect those things to create something meaningful. Sometimes the answers aren’t obvious, but by asking the right people the right questions, things come together magnificently.”

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