It was a bit of a whirlwind week for the Guru Skins team. On Sept. 15, their website opened for business, and on Sept. 21 they were representing the University of Tennessee at the Southeastern Conference Symposium in Atlanta where they finished third out of fourteen teams in the Student Entrepreneurial Pitch Competition.
“It’s been a big week for us,” said Jake Rheude, UT MBA candidate, Entrepreneur Fellow, and founder of Guru Skins. “Getting the site launched for beta testing was a big step, and then placing third at the SEC Symposium was very validating because of the high level of competition we were up against.”
Guru Skins is a crowdsourcing site connecting artists and board-sport enthusiasts through the sale of custom ski, snowboard, wakeboard, and other vinyl covers, enabling customers to protect their boards while conveying their individual styles.
The idea for Guru Skins came into being just over a year ago when Rheude was getting ready to leave for a snowboarding trip and was frustrated because he no longer liked the art on his snowboard but was unable to change it without buying a brand new board.
“The entire culture around skiing and snowboarding is so expressive, it just seemed crazy to me that to change the look of your board you had to spend hundreds of dollars on a new one,” said Rheude.
And with that thought, Guru Skins was born. Rheude founded the company and put together a team, bringing on John Born, a UT MBA candidate, and Dustin Giltnane, a UT MBA candidate also pursing a masters in nuclear engineering.
Before placing third at the SEC Symposium, Guru Skins had already found success, winning $5,000 in the Boyd Venture Challenge at UT and $5,000 in Davidson College’s National Venture Tournament for Sustainability & Sports. Guru Skins has operated on that $10,000 to date, a figure that might have made them seem like an underdog going into the SEC Symposium competition.
“Half of the teams there had already raised between $50,000 and $400,000 in angel or Series A funding, so we were up against some well established companies with very impressive technologies,” said Rheude. “The biggest take away for us was that we were able to compete with those teams. Advancing to the finals ahead of some of the companies with significantly more funding really validated our business model.”
The competition was won by a team of Texas A&M University PhD students who created affordably priced high-mobility prosthetic devices using smart nanotechnology and next-generation materials for additive manufacturing (3-D printing). The second place award went to a team of University of Arkansas PhD students who developed a new economical design for solar panels.
With the Guru Skins website up and running, the next step is to increase the company’s visibility amongst their target market.
“The website is definitely a soft launch right now,” said Rheude. “It’s operational, and we’ve already made our first sale, but we’re mostly trying to test out the backend mechanics of the website before we market it. Next, we’ll do some SEO (Search Engine Optimization) work to improve its visibility and then begin our marketing efforts in earnest – probably by mid-to-late October.”
Guru Skins also hopes to partner with several local businesses in Colorado, and they are currently working with bloggers to develop articles on the artists whose designs are now featured on the site. As part of their marketing strategy, Guru Skins also has plans to create online content that attracts boarding enthusiasts.
“We’re really looking to connect with amateur boarders to create some promotional videos,” said Rheude. It’s all about getting this company and brand image in front of the right people.”
In the months leading up to the company’s launch, Guru Skins worked with a number of Haslam College of Business faculty members to refine their business model and polish their pitch.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the Guru Skins team,” said Lynn Youngs, executive director of the Anderson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and faculty mentor. “They’ve taken an idea and, in less than a year, developed it into a business that’s competing with the best student startups from across the SEC. I expect big things from Guru Skins, and with the entrepreneurship minor now in place, my hope is that we see more student companies like this coming out of UT in the future.”
For more information on Guru Skins, visit www.guruskins.com.