It’s Veteran Small Business Week, so FoundersWire is going to spotlight some of the innovations our military are creating. If you are a veteran working on a small business or you know of one, please be sure to let us know RIGHT HERE.
By CHARLOTTE EMSLIE
No more fumbling to reach for wire cutters while trying to hold a wrench in place. Army veteran and MIT grad Christian Reed has crafted a tool that everyone from soldiers abroad to those of us at home working in our garages will want to use.
Designed around the concept of single-handed use, GRIPsher, the easily held multitool combines more than a dozen functions into one compact gadget. Just to name a few: knife, pliers, file, keychain holder, even a bottle opener.
“Last year, when I was overseas, I partly got the idea from the Army outfits,” Reed says. “You’re wearing gloves, bulletproof vests with full loops on them. I was also looking at pictures of tools meant for just one use, like measuring thickness, and I thought, ‘This looks perfect for scissors at the top.’ The big thing with this tool is you don’t need a pouch for it, you can fasten it right onto you.”
It didn’t take him long to nail down the design. “I used my free time to make drawings of tool ideas I had. Once I had them sketched out, I did the design and layout on the computer, then eventually the 3-D printing back home. Having them printed gave me a better idea of the layout and functionality.”
As far as revenue generation, GRIPsher’s seen huge success on Kickstarter. GRIPsher has already secured more than 820 backers and $40,000, well beyond its initial $10,000 goal. (Support it yourself RIGHT HERE.)
“Those Kickstarter campaigns are very hit-or-miss,” Reed admits. “Some people are interested and want to learn more, some people don’t care.” He’s had no problem, though. “I’ve had hundreds, even thousands of emails from people interested. It’s a chain effect, too, where someone writes about it on their site, then more people hear about it, and so on.”
Reed’s highly skilled technical background comes from both studying mechanical engineering at MIT and working in the engineering branch while stationed in Kuwait, doing construction and project management. “I had a rough background of prototyping and 3-D printing at MIT, but really what I learned came from my extracurricular activities at school, playing around with machines and bouncing around ideas with other people. It’s a rite of passage, in a way, as an engineer to create my own product.”
His time serving in the military was key in shaping not only Reed’s product but his perspective. “The military’s been very kind to me. They paid for my whole education—MIT wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Not only that, but the people there have been the most supportive through this process. When I was creating, when I was promoting—whenever I posted something on Facebook, they were the first people to like and share it. There’s that real brotherhood and promotion of opportunity.”
The desire to give back to that community is what inspired Reed to establish the GRIPsher giving program: For every “GRIPsher Black” product sold, one is given to a service member for free.
Promoting that brotherhood and support network is especially important, Reed says, given the frequency of politicized or negative perceptions about the military. “It’s important to highlight the good things. Also, in a way these are opposite ends of the spectrum. Lots of people have gone to MIT but have never served, and vice versa. I’d like to think I’m merging them together.”
What does the future for GRIPsher look like? “Our manufacturing process right now is really scalable,” Reed says. “It’s reliable, we’re confident with how it looks. The initial hurdles were the costs, the molds for tools. I had the final design done this past March, so now it’s shooting bunches of photos and finalizing things like the right clip length. As far as future distribution, I’d really like to see it on Amazon or at Home Depot. I want it to be one of those handy knickknacks everyone has.”
Through such programs as Veteran Small Business Week, the U.S. Small Business Association provides veterans, active duty service members, Guard and Reserve members and military spouses the entrepreneurial training and education programs, business technical assistance counseling, special access to capital programs and federal procurement training and access to opportunities they need to create their own opportunities. Share these stories on Twitter at #MyVetBiz to show support to veterans and their families. Learn more about SBA veteran initiatives here.