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Entrepreneurship alive and well at Lehigh

Three years ago, when Adam Mack ‘06 moved into his freshman dorm room in Lower Centennials, he became frustrated. No matter how he arranged his furniture, he couldn’t find enough space for everything.

Adam spoke to a family friend who had recently built a loft for his son, and the friend helped Adam build a loft that gave Adam the space he needed.

When Adam’s roommate heard about the new loft, he wanted one too. Soon, other students became impressed with the loft’s design and asked Adam how to build the lofts.

“I had an entrepreneur-vision and saw a business possibility,” Adam says.

Adam enlisted the help of his childhood friend and senior class president, Mike Psathas ’06.

“Adam and I supplement each other well,” Psathas says. Adam, a mechanical engineering major, designs the lofts and develops the business strategy; Psathas, an economic and political science major, handles the financial and legal aspects.

So began LehighLofts.

This spring, in recognition of their ingenuity and entrepreneurial talent, Adam and Mike received the university’s Leonard Pool Prize. The award, which includes a $15,000 prize, is named for the late chairman of Air Products and Chemicals Inc., who received an honorary doctorate of engineering from Lehigh in 1961 and served on the university’s board of trustees.

LehighLofts, a student-run company, offers “hassle-free lofting services,” Adam says. Adam and Mike visit interested students, discuss possibilities, build the loft and install it for $130 – cheaper than student-run lofting companies at other colleges, which charge around $200. For an additional charge, students can have their loft removed at the end of the year.

Most Lehigh students who build lofts make them from plywood without using the bed Lehigh provides. The students, however, must find a place to store the beds without breaking Lehigh’s rule against removing university furniture from dorm rooms.

LehighLofts gets around this problem by integrating the Lehigh beds into their lofts, thus producing a sturdier final product than most student-built lofts.

Students learn about LehighLofts through word-of-mouth and flyers. Adam and Mike stay in touch with their customers throughout the year.

“We don’t sell and forget about [the customers],” Adam says. “We ask them about the lofts when we see them around campus.”

LehighLofts “is not just out to make money,” Adam says, “but to help freshmen who don’t have the resources to build their own lofts.”

From its beginnings the company has “expanded tenfold,” Mike says. In their first year of business, Adam and Mike spent three hours building one loft. Since then, Adam has improved the manufacturing process, and now he and Mike can assemble a loft in only 45 minutes. This summer, Adam redesigned the process again, shortening production time even further.

“We’ve mastered the art of the loft,” Adam says.

In the last two years ago, the company has produced around 50 units, and as news of LehighLofts spreads, Adam expects to receive even more orders. In August, LehighLofts had already received five orders for next year, and Adam anticipates many more from the incoming freshmen and fraternity members. So, for the first time, Adam and Mike will develop a loft inventory instead of building lofts to order.

Mike plans to meet with a lawyer to discuss making LehighLofts an official business. Then, LehighLofts hopes to form a partnership with Lehigh and sell to surrounding colleges including Moravian College, Lafayette College and Muhlenberg University.

After Adam and Mike graduate this year, two sophomores will run the company. During this school year, Adam and Mike will teach them to make the lofts and run the business. Although they will not be on campus to run the business, both company founders plan to be involved in LehighLofts after graduation.

At Lehigh, Adam has won the Student Entrepreneurship Competition, formerly called the Invitation to Innovate, which is hosted by the integrated product development (IPD) program. In the year-long IPD program, students from all three undergraduate colleges form teams to design and make a product for a company sponsor.

The contest judges were impressed with Adam’s idea for ski goggles that contain a display that informs skiers of temperature, time and speed, as well as their direction. Adam designed the display to be visible while not distracting skiers.

The idea for the goggles, called “SpeedVision,” originated when Adam was in high school. While skiing on a cold day, Adam needed to know the time, but he did not want to remove his gloves to see his watch. “Wouldn’t it be great,” he thought to himself, “if I could see the without taking off my gloves?”

Through the IPD program, Adam and five other team members are creating a business, called “Snow Sport Innovations” to produce the goggles. They will make their first prototype next semester. After introducing their product to skiers and snowboarders, Adam hopes to expand their market to include motorcycles, downhill bikers and “anyone who wears goggles.”

Adam hopes to attend graduate school or work for a company after he graduates, but he eventually plans to start his own business, design products and continue to explore new entrepreneurial opportunities. “It’s my passion and my hobby,” he says.

Mike plans to attend law school in Philadelphia or Washington, D.C., and then work in political public service.

by Becky Straw ‘06

Posted on Thursday, September 01, 2005

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