Abigail Dahl started her college career at Oregon State University in September 2011. Two months later, she was hungry to start a business of her own, and she had the idea to make it happen, thanks to a bicycle theft and an entrepreneurship opportunity.
“While going to Oregon State my first term of college, my bicycle was stolen,” she said. “For many people that have bikes, you know that this is a heart-stopping experience. Your bicycle is your freedom, and losing it is a terrible experience.”
That same term she entered OSU’s Weatherford Garage Experience — “a community of student entrepreneurs, immersed in an innovative, high-energy environment that promotes the creation, evolution, and implementation of business ideas,” per the website. She wanted to create something that would reduce bike theft and keep bikes protected from the weather.
Her idea was the Cycle Jacket, a bike cover made of impregnated nylon. It’s the same material used for parachutes and tents.
It has been almost 18 months since she decided to focus on this venture. She has gone through various iterations of the prototype, and she is getting ever closer to manufacturing the first batch of product for market.
In that time she has learned about the startup life, especially the little things people often don’t think about when they are consumed with an exciting idea.
“I’ve learned a lot on the legal side of things,” she said. “I’ve learned how to register a business with the state, register for a trademark, how to file a patent … You learn a lot about product development, talking to people — I’ve gotten much, much better at giving presentations, so I’m very comfortable talking in front of people now. People can put me on the spot and I can give them a whole presentation about my business.”
Launching a product has come with a few surprises, she said. And she’s not shying away from passing along a few pieces of advice for anyone hoping to do the same.
“Don’t underestimate how long it’s going to take to get something to market,” Dahl said. “I founded Cycle Jacket in November 2011, and I thought I was going to be coming out with product by June 2012. That didn’t happen, and it’s been almost a year, and I still don’t have product. It’s a lot harder than you think it is.”
She has crossed paths with manufacturers. The first had a price point well outside what she was willing to work with. The second, in Seattle, has her designs and is working out what it’s going to cost to make her first batch. She hopes to know what’s going to happen in the next few weeks.
Most sophomores in college are not busy applying for self-employed scholarships, going (and winning) pitch competitions, traveling to entrepreneurship conferences or spending hours making Kickstarter campaigns — which she and her team have been doing. It seems like plenty of work in addition to daily studies and everything else students might want to do during this period of their lives. But she believes college is the best time to explore something like this.
“Right now it’s such a fantastic time to start a business, because as a college student you’re able to take these risks,” she said. “Down the road, if you’re trying to start a business, you have other obligations and so much more to lose.
“I figure, I might as well be broke anyway, so I should do something with myself right now and figure things out before I get to that point.”
The risk she took her first term at OSU has shown immense signs that she can succeed. She has a pool of customers ready to buy, and she sees a sustainable market for it. Of course, she’s aware this isn’t always the case for others who set off with an idea; she’s in the business world and sees it happen, and she has a good understanding that things may not always go right for her as well. Failure is part of the process, though, and she believes it’s not such a bad thing.
“If you have something you’re passionate about, and the market is perceptive to it, go for it,” Dahl said. “What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen by developing new ideas? You could fail. There’s a good chance I could fail too. Failing is what makes your next venture stronger. So don’t be discouraged. I’ve had plenty of people tell me, ‘Oh, Cycle Jacket isn’t going to work.’ They’re also not my target market. Go with it. Go with your gut on it.”
Dahl is a staunch advocate for building business skills, whether through a formal program in the College of Business or during an open event like Startup Weekend.
“I think (Oregon State Startup Weekend) has huge potential value, especially bringing in Athletics, and tying in every group at Oregon State. Whatever background you have, everyone can benefit from it.”
She’s attracted to the networking opportunity Startup Weekend provides. Startup Weekend offers exposure, to ideas, hard work, and to people. It doesn’t hurt to get fresh perspectives, she said. Ultimately, though, it’s about a combination of everything, and Startup Weekend offers a little bit of everything.
“Some people say, ‘I don’t like business. I want nothing to do with business.’ No matter what you do,” she continued, “you will be involved with a business. So, I think learning even just a little about business or being creative is extremely important for any environment you’re entering. Based on what I’ve seen, that’s what employers are looking for — getting out of the box. It just helps you think differently from the rest of the population.”