Catching Up With 2015 Bronco Startup Challenge Winners Desk-E
It's been six months since a group of Cal Poly Pomona students pitched the product Desk-E at the 2015 Bronco Startup Challenge. The desk extenstion quickly became a judge favorite and was ultimately awarded top honors that also included a check for $4,000.
There have been some new developments at Desk-E since the competition; the lineup of co-founders changing slightly is one of the headlining ones. Gal Bechor, Keith Brase and Richie Maldonado, three of the original four are still involved and are attempting to take the First Place prize winner to market.
We recently caught up with the team for a brief Q&A to see how the transition from students to business owners is going.
What changes has Desk-E seen since the Bronco Startup Challenge?
There have been a couple of changes since the Bronco Start-up Challenge. Unfortunately, one of the original engineers who started the project with us, Stephen McKinely, was not able to continue this project due to time constrictions from his job. Thereafter, we brought on board Stavro Victor, a talented student with great vision and creativity.
In regard to the company, we have shifted our mindset towards “proactive thinking." We understand that each of us must go above and beyond their assigned position in order to get this product off the ground and help students across the U.S. study more effectively.
The product itself has not undergone many changes, yet. We have started R&D on the product, which we hope to continue more intensely after the Kickstarter campaign. We already have various ideas on how to make the product more compact and appealing. However, let us make it clear that the product we are currently selling on Kickstarter is going to have a completely new design, while still keeping the same features everyone loves.
Has the $4,000 prize money gone as far as you expected?
The $4,000 has been a big help. It was a big support to our activities, anywhere from starting our website & Kickstarter marketing campaign to filing a provisional patent and working on R&D, the money has provided great assistance in motivating us to pursue the idea.
Desk-E has gone the crowd-funding route; why go down that road and how did the company come up with $15,000 as its goal?
We had the idea of launching a Kickstarter campaign for this product since Day One of the Innovation Lab in 2013. The reason we didn’t go through with it back then was simply due to lack of time. However, after winning the Bronco Startup Challenge we decided to pursue our original goal. It is exciting, challenging, and can equip the company with many tools for success.
Our goal is set at $15,000 due to the fact that it is the bare minimum we need to start producing Desk-Es while making a profit. We are estimating roughly 200 Desk-E sales with that goal, which we believe is enough demand to approach schools and be featured in stores. Of course, the more funding we get the better and we will be able to perform and create our new design. The $15,000 is just the bare minimum.
Without Cal Poly Pomona, where is this project? What kind of support have you received from the university since the contest?
Without Cal Poly Pomona, this product would have not even come into fruition. We came up with this idea during PolyPresent’s Innovation and Commercialization Lab. Dr. Olukemi Sawyerr and Dr. Winny Dong created this program to inspire students and them that creating a business is possible even for students.
They have been very supportive and informative in how to create a start up and the entire year-long project was a learning experience. Since the contest, we have had support from Dr. Dong, Dr. Sawyerr, and the new advisor to the Innovation Lab, Dr. Ozkaya. They are currently helping us reach out to students and faculty to receive support for the project, while following university guidelines.
As a Bronco Startup Challenge winner, what advice would you give to future competitors looking to take a product to market?
Our advice is to take action - too many people spend too much time talking about ideas and features. You can plan all you want, but once you start executing problems come up. A startup has to be agile and quickly adapt to circumstances. It is the main advantage you have over big companies.
Describe the most difficult unforeseen challenge Desk-E has had to face and how did it adapted.
The most difficult challenge was being able to adjust to high manufacturing costs. During the class, we hand manufactured the product and were able to get discounts on materials as were students in a class. However, once we started pursuing the project we realized that manufacturing costs are a lot higher than expected. We are currently in contact with manufacturers both in the U.S. and abroad in order to keep the high quality and low cost that college students deserve.
If you were able to lay out the ideal five-year plan for Desk-E; where is the team and its product in 2020?
As we are still finalizing our five-year plan and future goals, we all seem to aim towards an exit strategy. Our short-term goals are to sell in bulk to schools and bookstores and create a Desk-E rental program. We are even looking at a different use for Desk-E, but we will keep that one a secret, for now.
In the long-term, even though we believe that Desk-E is a great product that can help students across the United States, it is just a stepping-stone in our journey. We want to grow this company, learn from it, and then move on to implement our knowledge and experience onto bigger ideas. For us, it isn’t about the money. It is about making students' lives better, a value we are committed to when starting, growing, and selling the company.
*Desk-E is a private company not affiliated with Cal Poly Pomona. Any donations made to or purchase made from Desk-E are not tax deductible.