Many undergraduates have the dream of starting their own businesses. Just the goal to create a product that takes off is enough to motivate students through years of college.
While many students are planning for the future, two UB undergraduate students have already made a product and are now making strides towards success.
Bernard Cohen and Joe Ricciardi have found that success is a process with their new business and backyard golf game, Chip-Down. Cohen and Ricciardi, who are both in their fifth year of a combined mechanical engineering and MBA program at UB, launched their business on Kickstarter on Sept. 8. They have already exceeded their $12,000 goal. They made a name for their product when they placed second in the Henry A. Penasci Jr. Technology Entrepreneurship Competition. Before its success, the product had some humble beginnings.
“Our product started as a wooden box,” Cohen said. “It had walls on the side that you could hinge down so you could swing a golf club through it...but it was still a huge wooden box, it was ridiculous.”
Chip-Down is a golf-based backyard game with the goal of making golf approachable for anyone. The game utilizes a turf chipping platform and a three-ring target. Players score by hitting a shuttlecock into one of the rings, each ring worth a different amount of points.
In the original prototype, gameplay involved an actual golf ball. A wooden box stood for the chipping platform, while the target evolved from a wooden fence.
Cohen replaced the golf ball with a shuttlecock from badminton to make it easier for new players to hit towards the target.
“If you hit the head of [the shuttlecock] with a certain amount of force, it allows them to fly in the general direction it is pointed towards,” Cohen said. “With a golf ball, if you don’t hit it properly, it can go all over the place.”
Cohen first came up with the idea when he was visiting family in the Jersey Shore area. He noticed all the beach games like KanJam and Cornhole.
As an avid golf fan, he wanted to create a golf version of those games. As an entrepreneur, created a golf version of those popular backyard games. Cohen designed the first version of the Chip-Down right when he got home from New Jersey. He then teamed up with engineering classmate Ricciardi, and a couple months later they decided to enter the competition.
Over the course of the competition, the team worked to refine the product. The version that launched on Kickstarter was the fifth iteration of Chip-Down, according to Ricciardi. Cohen said a major aspect they improved on was the aesthetic of the product. Cohen sewed together the third generation by hand, which was the biggest leap in look because they switched to a canvas bag.
Taylor Speer, a graduate MBA student, helped with the Penasci competition after meeting Ricciardi and Cohen in class. Speer said she didn’t know about their product until the start of the competition, but quickly got on board.
“One of the biggest things that made Joe and Bernard stand out was how passionate they were about their product,” Speer said. “Out of all the teams, they were one of the few teams that was always in Blackstone, always asking for help, always looking for ways to improve, and that's something the judges really make note of.”
Blackstone LaunchPad is a program geared towards assisting young entrepreneurs at UB and putting together the Penasci competition. Speer, who works for Blackstone, said they fully utilized the center to get advice on improving their pitch to help them advance in the competition.
Besides the team’s passion, Speer also noted how well the chemistry of their different personalities helps them succeed. He said Ricciardi is more analytical and soft-spoken while Cohen tends to be the more outgoing and risky member – the “salesperson.”
Cohen and Ricciardi had time to develop that chemistry while they spent pretty much every minute together over the summer.
“We were working part-time jobs and internships,” Cohen said. “Basically, we would do our thing all day then come home and work on Chip-Down all night.”
Ricciardi and Cohen said their background in mechanical engineering has been invaluable.
The team is devoted both to Chip-Down and each other. Ricciardi pointed out that Cohen declined an internship opportunity in California to stay in New York and work on the business. Ricciardi said he took that as a sign that his partner was all-in on Chip-Down.
With their eyes set to the future, Ricciardi and Cohen plan to take this business as far as they can. After reaching their goal on Kickstarter in less than a week, the duo is excited about what lies ahead. They are in talks with manufacturers to start massproducing the product. They expect the first preorders to be to their customers by Winter 2017.