One of our feature stories in NC State magazine’s Winter 2010 issue — which will arrive in mailboxes around the holidays — focuses on the Entrepreneurship Initiative (EI), an NC State program founded in 2008 that teaches students how to start companies through the courses, training and networking opportunities it provides. Among those students making use of the EI is Angela Hollen ’10, a graduate student in the College of Textiles who plans to launch Spitter Spatter, a clothing line made from performance fabrics for infants and toddlers that she’s starting with Savannah Smith ’10 and UNC-Wilmington graduate Zach Schabot.
On most afternoons, you can find Hollen developing her clothing line in the Garage, a 2,000-square foot space inside Research Building IV on Centennial Campus. Funded by Red Hat and run by the EI, it opened this fall. Hollen gave us a tour of the Garage recently. Check out some photos of the Garage (and the students using it) in the above slideshow.
In the winter magazine story on the EI, we also talk about the Springboard Innovation Partnership Portal that NC State launched in September. Terri Lomax, NC State’s vice chancellor for research and innovation, describes the portal as a “network of networks” designed to unify various entrepreneurship and innovation activities on campus for faculty, staff, and students. One of those networks is the EI. Click here for a list and descriptions of all of Springboard’s networks.
Read our magazine story on campus entrepreneurship activities here, and read an extended Q&A with Hollen after the jump.
Describe the company you’re trying to start.
I’m working on starting a children’s clothing line made from performance fabrics. Basically we will be targeting infants and toddlers up to a 4T/5T size range. We’re going to do a classic collection, which will have T-shirts, polos, onesies, dresses—your real basic staple items. Two times a year, we’ll release two separate collections that will have your funkier seasonal pieces, like vests and jackets and shorts, or things you can add over top of them. That’s what we’re planning right now. All garments will be made in the U.S., and we’re looking at doing our cut and sew manufacturing, hopefully, in North Carolina. We’re excited about entering a prototyping phase.
Where did the idea for Spitter Splatter come from?
I babysat all through college and Zach has two kids. Kids are disastrously messy. They spit up and drool They have colds. They spill drinks. They stay messy, and you’re always changing outfits and washing them. So I worked on my senior project in performance fabrics, and when I realized what I had hit on and how many markets hadn’t been penetrated, that’s when this market segment really stood out, and that’s how we figured out to do this. The need and target consumer was pretty clear. The nano-technology we are using has been introduced into some sports apparel and outdoor gear, but it has not really been taken to kids’ wear. There’s a huge market, especially with babies, that we can home in on.
My parents are also entrepreneurs. [They own a chemical manufacturing distribution center and TRANSCO Wash Systems, which furnished the industrial system used to clean New York City’s subway system.] By helping them and being exposed to the entrepreneurial mindset on a global scale, you grow up thinking that the sky really is the limit. They taught me that what I can achieve in five or ten years depends on how hard I work and that is the beauty of it.
What’s the biggest challenge you’re facing with starting the company?
Just learning how to even do a startup and all the things that go into it—like how to contact a manufacturer and what they need from me, how to do contracts, where to look for funding. All of that. I’m 22. I went through college, but I have no earthly idea how to startup a company. But from the readings, the tours, the asking of questions, and the contact with faculty at NC State—the support of the EI—all that has given us a huge advantage. And with the EI, they really are supporting younger entrepreneurs and product development. It’s been a great advantage to go ahead and start on what interests me, especially since a lot of jobs have been lost in the U.S. A lot of new opportunities can bring those jobs back. There are a whole lot of possibilities, and we’re thinking big scale. We don’t want our clothes to just be in one boutique, but we want to get them all across the U.S. within the next year or two.
How did you get involved with the EI?
Last year I was a research assistant to two professors in the College of Textiles, and I was a member of the Textile Entrepreneurship Club. Through those, I heard about the local tours and the trip to Silicon Valley [the EI takes]. I applied for the trips and got accepted to both, and that’s when I really got into it. I met the other students interested in entrepreneurship, and we got to meet entrepreneurs. By hearing other people’s stories and learning about how they got funding, for example, it was eye-opening and exciting. I came back fired up and ready to go.
You’ve set up an office of sorts in EI’s the Garage. How is the Garage helping you?
One, it provide us with the tools we need to get a startup going. We have access to NC State’s facilities and online technologies. I can, for example, use the Smartboard in an office in the Garage to sketch out designs, and I’ve had business meetings here. It’s cheaper to do that than having to rent an office in Raleigh, so it cuts down on the overhead, allowing us to focus on the expenses and funds we need to start the company. But also, this whole environment of being in an innovative space and being supported by other people working for the common good and wanting everybody to succeed—it’s awesome. You’re not hitting a wall of people. Everybody is popping in and checking up on each other to see if they can help with anything. A lot of people actually start their startups in their garages. Here, with the technology, the staff, the professors, and the other students willing to help you, you can get a lot farther.
How would you describe the Garage?
It’s an innovation incubator. It’s not just a center for innovation and productivity, but a real place to get down to the nitty gritty and create new products, processes and companies that can revitalize industries and change the way people interact and live their lives. Some of the products that will come out of this Garage are going to change how people live. NC State has cultivated a huge student body that is very innovative, that thinks outside-the-box, and that has a lot of potential. They recruit top-of-the-line students who are really ready to use their knowledge to make a difference and go out and do something. It’s really great when NC State supports facilities like this and gives people who are ready to jump in full force the opportunity. It’s going to be cool to see what types of projects will come out of the Garage over the next couple of years.
What’s your favorite part of the Garage?
The Smartboards and all the books we have access to in our library. I would not be able to afford all these books that are really helpful to anybody looking to start a company.
Why do you want to start a company?
The College of Textiles was a perfect fit for me. I’ve always been a project-oriented person who’s creative and who has always been interested in about four different things at the same time. When I went to college, I thought, “OK, Do I want a business degree? Go to law school? I like economics. How about that?” So the College of Textiles was a good mesh of those interests for me. Everything was hands-on and about product innovation and marketing –it takes you from start to finish about how you get a product out there, how you launch it, and how you sell it. My undergraduate work gave me the ground work.