A little money and a lot of advice goes a long way for a budding entrepreneur. Take it from the two Hokie engineering student founders of Park & Diamond, a young startup that makes collapsible, sleek helmets. These helmets are not safety certified for motorcycles, but they hope to have some that are in the future.
After winning seven pitch competitions last year, many held by the Apex Center for Entrepreneurs, the company took off in a major way, earning top media coverage in outlets like The Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
Recently, they closed a round of funding with a lead investor and luxury automobile company which allowed them to make their first two company hires. They have kicked off production and are launching their stylish — and potentially lifesaving — products in the months to come.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 74 percent of fatal crashes involve a head injury. Of those killed, 97 percent are not wearing a helmet. By creating a helmet that is ultraportable, Park & Diamond believe they will be able to save the lives of riders who previously would have gone without a lid.
Park & Diamond co-founders and College of Engineering students David Hall and Jordan Klein saw firsthand the potential devastation when Hall’s sister Rachel was hit by a car while riding her bike, leaving her in a coma for four months. That is when he decided to take action.
That was nearly three years ago, Hall said
According to Hall, who graduated in May from Virginia Tech with a degree in mechanical engineering, it was all thanks to the growing entrepreneurial community at Virginia Tech.
Hall said the environment works in large part due to the mentorship and support of industry giants — like that of a man believed to be Silicon Valley’s longest-serving CEO of a public company: Ray Zinn.
Video regarding Silicon Valley entrepreneur funding some of Virginia Tech's newest startups: https://youtu.be/U_xugdcfbVk
Zinn, entrepreneur, inventor, author, and philanthropist, led semiconductor company Micrel for 37 years before retiring, though he uses the word “retirement” loosely.
“To be honest, I work harder now and longer than I did when I was working full-time,” said the disciplined author of “Tough Things First” and “Zen of Zinn,” released in early 2018. “I wouldn’t call myself retired in the sense of the word that I’m off playing golf or I’m sitting on some rock in Hawaii.”
Zinn regularly speaks at and mentors students from universities across the nation in his spare time, largely due to how important he said his own university training was for his career success.
In October 2016, Zinn visited Virginia Tech’s Innovate Living-Learning Community to deliver a “fireside chat,” a tradition within the community wherein guest speakers share their wisdom and career advice. After he finished speaking to the dozens of students in attendance, including Hall, Zinn decided he wanted to do a little more to help. He started the ZinnStarter program
Video regarding Virginia Tech's Innovate Learning-Living: https://youtu.be/MU3FYVLe8-o
“My goal is really to help the students learn,” Zinn said. “This is not for funding them when they leave school, it’s while they’re in school to help them develop those talents necessary that ultimately they can run their own companies.”
Since its initial launch at Virginia Tech in 2016, ZinnStarter has spread to four other universities.
Zinn is impacting Virginia Tech students in another major way. Over the past two years, Zinn’s investment into the ZinnStarter program at Virginia Tech has funded several student teams that have since won a total of $205,000 through various pitch competitions and raised more than $500,000 in investment capital.
“My thought was if I can get them early understanding the principles of running a company, I think they’ll be more successful, because only one out of 10 startups succeed,” Zinn said. “And I’m trying to improve that to at least 50 or 60 percent that succeed.”
Park and Diamond stated, “We were 21-year-old college students trying to juggle college and everything else,” Hall said, “and having that support network and having that experience really support you as you’re taking those first few steps — I can’t imagine where we’d be without it.”
(2018). "Engineering students take lifesaving concept t market with help of university environment, donors". Retrieved from https://augustafreepress.com/engineering-students-take-lifesaving-concept-to-market-with-help-from-university-environment-donors/