A little seed 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 bike helmets. 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 lead investor and luxury automobile company BMW, which allowed them to make their first two company hires in their new New York City branch. They’ve kicked off production and are launching their stylish — and potentially lifesaving — products in the months to come.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, millions of Americans ride bicycles, but less than half wear bicycle helmets. In the event of an accident, not wearing a helmet can lead to traumatic brain injury.
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 was nearly three years ago, Hall said.
“We saw firsthand what the consequences of not wearing a helmet are, then we realized how big of a problem it was, and for Jordan and me, it was just kind of, you know, let’s change this. Let’s take action and change this,” Hall said.
So how’d they do it? 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.
Between the increasing opportunities for funding and the guidance from faculty, industry leaders, and a strong network of like-minded peers, Hall said, the entrepreneurial community at Virginia Tech is “invaluable.”
“Quite frankly, if it wasn’t for the entrepreneurship community at Tech and Tech as a whole, we have no idea where we would be,” said Hall, a Mullica Hill, New Jersey, native, speaking on behalf of himself and Klein, a recent graduate from Chappaqua, New York, who studied engineering science and mechanics.
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.
The 80-year-old 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.”