When Stuart Baldwin was brainstorming an invention for his entrepreneurship class last year, his professor asked him a simple question: “What are you passionate about?”
Baldwin, BS ’15, Agribusiness Management, from Davidsonville, Md., answered quickly. He had played lacrosse in high school and always wondered if there were a device not yet developed that could help young players of the sport — the fastest-growing high school sport in the nation, according to national governing body US Lacrosse.
Quicker than he could develop a name for it, Baldwin’s idea came to life. His professor, Fonda Holehouse, the outgoing director of West Virginia University’s startup resource center, LaunchLab, paired him with Justin Chambers, BS ’12, Mechanical Engineering, of Glen Dale, W.Va. The two began developing prototypes of a device that would help string a lacrosse head, something new to the lacrosse world.
“I always had an idea like this. But sometimes you need that motivation,” he said. “You need a team, too. You need people who share the same idea and excitement as you do for the product you’re creating.”
Baldwin and Chambers, currently a mechanical engineering PhD candidate at WVU, spent two weeks designing the first prototype of their product, called the Lax-Vise, and the business grew from there. Now, they have a website, a logo and are actually selling products.
“It really was a domino effect for us,” Baldwin said. “We started to work on it, and pretty quickly we were saying, ‘Wow, this could really work.’”
The Lax-Vise grips a table or surface via a clamp and allows a lacrosse head to sit on a ball joint to make it much easier to string. While the average lacrosse stick “stringer” at a sporting goods store can complete the task in about 15 minutes, Baldwin said this device cuts that time significantly even for those who are more experienced at stringing a stick.
For some young players, stringing a lacrosse stick is like an art, Baldwin said. Each player has a different way of doing it based on his or her particular style of play or personality. He has tapped right into that new trend.
“People who played 20 years ago never learned how to string a stick,” Baldwin said. “But younger kids are doing it themselves now. They’re watching YouTube videos and doing it on their own.”
Baldwin and his team are now working on an additional prototype of Lax-Vise, which will use a vacuum suction cup to anchor the device instead of the clamp.
“It is beyond rewarding to see a young man realize his true potential through something that simply started as a class project,” Holehouse said. “Because we have been here to support him through our LaunchLab efforts, he has built a company with injection molds, a manufacturer, a clear market and strategy to reach it, a well-rounded startup team and a sound financial plan.”
It may be that Baldwin developed the product at the perfect time, too, as lacrosse continues to grow in popularity across the country. In 2014, US Lacrosse reported an increase in participation of players in organized teams of at least 20,000 people for the 11th consecutive year. That year there were 772,772 people playing the sport — most of them youth — an increase of 3.5 percent from the previous year. While it has been a top sport for decades on the east coast in places like Virginia, Maryland and New York, Baldwin sees the sport moving west and gaining popularity there.
“Because of that, we want our business to grow. We want to see this product in Dick’s, Sports Authority and other big sporting goods stores,” said Baldwin, adding that he has visited lacrosse tournaments and sports stores to introduce the product. “We want every lacrosse player to have one of these.”
From a WVU classroom to the shelves of some of the biggest sporting goods stores in the country — that’s a lofty goal. But, Baldwin said whether that happens or not, he’s still very thankful for the opportunity to create something new while studying at the University.
“It’s just such a great learning experience regardless of whether the product is a success or not,” he said. “You go through a lot of personal and professional development. You basically learn how to run a business.
“The reality is there’s a lot more work than coming up with the idea, but it’s only a matter of time until it takes off.”
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