Casenova – STUDENT ENTREPRENEUR

Jake Baron’s mantra might be, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

That is certainly the case with the founder of Casenova, who developed 22 different models of his one-strap backpack or knapsack that will be available this fall for students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). Along the way, Baron has developed 10 new concepts that use the same basic design but are customized to the particular audience.

In a recent interview with teknovation.biz, the December 2011 UTK graduate said his entrepreneurial inspiration came one day during his junior year as he was “walking back to my apartment” and experiencing the discomfort of his traditional two-strap backpack.

Although he had never sewn before, Baron decided that he could design and produce a backpack that was more ergonomically comfortable and would better meet the needs of students, many of whom carried a laptop and iPad, rather than books, to class. His idea was to redistribute weight evenly throughout the body to reduce stress on the back while also providing the types of pockets that today’s students need for cellphones, sunglasses and water bottles.

“I made my first prototype by hand,” he said, adding, “I pricked my finger a number of times.” The initial prototype was redesigned nearly two-dozen times before Baron settled on the latest version that is now glued rather than hand sewn.

“It can handle 14 to 16 pounds,” he says. “The single strap curves to the shape of the body,” in essence allowing the backpack to “mold to the user’s body” over time.

Baron says the Casenova, which is made from Neoprene, creates a “weightless effect” where users believe they are carrying less weight than they actually are.

“A lot of the weight is down in the rib area which takes stress off the shoulders and back,” he explains.

Some two and one-half years after designing his first backpack, Baron is about to embark on selling his product line. He recently received his initial shipment of backpacks from his Chinese manufacturer and has arranged for them to be sold for $59.99 each in the UTK Computer Store.

Baron says that “marketing is not my strongest suit,” but one would never know that as he outlines his plans for rapidly growing beyond the initial UTK market.

“The school industry is changing; it’s going digital,” he says. “I’m trying to ride that wave.” This means sales meetings at local computer stores, since he sees computer users as one of his biggest markets.

Baron also has a webpage – http://www.case-nova.com/ – where customers can learn more about the backpacks and actually purchase one. They come in three colors – black, light pink and royal blue.

Like most entrepreneurs, Baron’s journey in getting from idea to product was not a linear process. His, however, was different from many in the fact that he took a trip halfway around the world in the midst of starting-up.

Baron, who double majored in accounting and Chinese and world business, competed in three events for entrepreneurs while also constantly refining his product design. He entered one of his first prototypes in the UTK Undergraduate Student Business Competition in the Spring 2010 semester. When he won first prize and $5,000, he decided that maybe his idea was a viable business opportunity. Several months later, Baron entered a second UTK-sponsored business competition – Vol Court – and finished second.

Spring Semester 2011 found him engaged in a study abroad internship in China. The time there proved to be fortuitous for Baron and his company, Baron Innovation, LLC. The U.S.-based manufacturer of the backpacks ceased operations, but Baron was able to find a replacement firm in China.

Earlier this year, he won the Boyd Venture Fund competition and $12,500 which is enabling him to secure sufficient product to start commercial sales.

Even as he focuses on students, Baron is also eyeing a number of other potential markets. One involves individuals interested in outdoor sports, hunting, and fishing. “I only have to make a few changes for those markets,” he says. He’s also focused on a smaller version for women and a leather version for business executives.

Baron thought he would be an accountant when he moved from Maryland to Knoxville to enroll in UTK. Then, as he readily admits, “I came across this idea, it stuck, and I got traction. I’m having fun.”

One can easily visualize Baron continuing to pursue enhancements to his existing Casenova product as well as new spin-offs from it and possibly entirely different businesses. He’s clearly one who does not mind trying and trying and trying.

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM PERSHING YOAKLEY ASSOCIATES

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