Chase Kaczmarek doesn’t just use his longboard (a skateboard variant) to get around the University of Maryland’s campus. The senior management major’s longboard also provided the impetus for his startup.
In summer 2012, Kaczmarek had sustained some serious cuts and bruises from a fall off his longboard when he swerved to avoid a rabbit that jumped into his path. The sharp turn caused his wheels to scrape against the board itself, something boarders call “wheel bite.” The accident had him brainstorming ways to make sure it never happened again. He dreamed up a mud flap-like barrier between the wheel and the board. For riders into stunts, he thought, such a device could open up a whole new world of trick possibilities.
To Kaczmarek’s surprise, nothing like it existed on the market. So he set out to make it himself. He first sought help on an entrepreneurship board on Reddit.com, which led to a fortuitous connection with Christopher Wagner, an expert product developer. Kaczmarek’s new business, Wheel Shields, was off and rolling.
“We’ve really taken a product that was an idea — that first 1.0 prototype — and we’ve turned into something that is an active part of a better longboard. It’s not just some gimmicky thing. The last thing I’d want to do is release a product that doesn’t really help people,” says Kaczmarek.
To fund production, Kaczmarek launched a month-long campaign on the popular crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and raised nearly $31,000.
“It was one of the most incredible and stressful experiences of my life,” Kaczmarek says. “You are waking up at the crack of dawn and working 20-hour days, putting in as much time and effort as you can to get funded. Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing model. If you don’t meet your funding goal, you lose all the money.”
Kaczmarek used the money to have a die-cast mold created to manufacture his metal Wheel Shields in China. His first production run fulfilled the Kickstarter campaign pledges. He has distribution agreements with more than a dozen retailers, and he sells Wheel Shields on the company’s website. There are an estimated 2 million longboarders worldwide, so the product also has gotten traction in Europe. He has been talking to international shipping and distribution partners to figure out a global distribution plan.
Kaczmarek credits Smith for helping him get to where he is now.
“It’s really amazing to have this two-pronged approach where you’re getting this amazing world-class education that you can apply to your day-to-day, but you’re also getting the support of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship and all of these programs to help entrepreneurs actually build businesses. To be honest, I would not be where I am today without that mentorship and financial support.”