By Scott Kraus
The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
In the beginning, it was just a big, googly-eyed dinosaur costume.
And it was good.
So good, in fact, that when Lehigh University graduate student Lisa Glover showed up at a campus Halloween party in the 15-foot-tall wearable cardboard dinosaur she designed and fabricated herself, the party came to a screeching halt. Her industrial origami velociraptor was a star.
“When I walked into the room, everyone just stopped,” Glover said.
What she didn’t know then was that her show-stopping costume would evolve over the next several months into a crowdfunding smash, earning her more than $76,600 in startup funding in just two weeks on the popular Kickstarter website.
“I had seen Kickstarter projects, but I never in a million years would have seen myself launching one and being amazingly successful,” she said.
For the uninitiated, Kickstarter is an online marketplace where entrepreneurs can post projects they are working on that need funding to jump-start production.
Visitors to the website pledge money because they like an idea or product, usually in exchange for a premium or the product itself if it reaches its goal.
The website has launched products including the ElevationDock iPod charger and the Veronica Mars movie, which raised $5.7 million from the TV series’ fans.
Glover’s clumsy brown cardboard costume has changed a bit on its way to market.
KitRex, as it is now called, has become a three-dimensional dinosaur-making kit for kids that produces 3-foot-long “Bristol board” toy dinosaurs in a rainbow of 10 cheerful colors.
It started as a homework assignment made by professor Marc de Vinck in Lehigh’s master’s-level Technical Entrepreneurship graduate program offered through the university’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship Creativity and Innovation.
From the beginning, there was a lot of buzz about Glover’s project, said technical entrepreneurship professor Brian Slocum, managing director of the design labs at Lehigh’s Wilbur Powerhouse.
“Before I even saw it, there was this gossip going around,” he said. “Have you seen what Lisa has been working on? She has this huge dinosaur.”
Maybe that should have been a sign of things to come. At the time, though, it was just enough for Slocum to push Glover to keep working on it.
“He said, ‘Lisa, you need to make this into a thing, you need to do something with it,’ ” she said.
Glover set to work trying to figure out a way to make her dinosaur marketable.
“I thought, let me start with something small that anyone could fit in their house,” she said. “Let’s face it, not everyone has room for a 15-foot dinosaur in their kitchen.”
So she refined her idea and scaled it down using a laser cutter and computer-aided design tools she mastered during her undergraduate work at Lehigh as a fine arts and architecture major.
Using some professors’ children and their friends as guinea pigs, Glover cranked out round after round of 3-foot dinosaur kits, making improvements in each version.
The first generation? Let’s just say it resulted in some frustrated kids and a pile of half-finished velociraptors.
“I launched my very first prototype at Christmas and they were awful,” she said. “One of out 20 put them together.”
Eight versions later, Glover was ready to go public with her idea. But she needed $8,000 to purchase a custom-made steel die that would allow her to manufacture KitRex in bulk.
She turned to Kickstarter, thinking that its social media elements would simultaneously serve as a marketing and funding tool by getting the word out about her product. She did not expect a Kickstarter staff member to make KitRex a featured project.
After that, users of the popular news-sharing site Reddit picked up on KitRex and it went viral.
In just a few days, Glover’s project blew through its $8,000 goal. As of Sunday afternoon it had 2,035 backers pledging more than $76,600. More than 850 people had ordered one KitRex kit for $20 and more than 700 had ordered two kits for $35.
Three backers pledged at least $1,000 for one of the life-size costumes that started the whole thing.
“That just blows my mind honestly, as someone who isn’t huge into social media,” Glover said. “I don’t have a smartphone. I am not your typical 23-year-old. I don’t even have an Instagram.”
Now, of course, Glover has some new challenges.
KitRex is so popular, she’ll need to find someone else to produce the kits using her design. She’s consulting a patent attorney and has been fielding proposals from investors interested in putting her product in toy stores inside and outside the U.S.
“Originally I was planning on cranking them out on my own,” she said.
Slocumb credits Glover with the creativity and design talent to come up with the idea and the determination to take it to completion. And he thinks the Technical Entrepreneurship program has given her the tools and knowledge to tackle commercializing it.
“Without that knowledge, it would be really easy for someone to be taken advantage of at this stage,” he said.
Now Glover has to figure out a means of production that will allow her to cost-effectively get the dinosaur kits to her customers by her promised July delivery date while ensuring they meet her quality standards.
They’re exactly the type of problems every young entrepreneur hopes to have the opportunity to solve.
— Product description: A fun and engaging paper dinosaur creation that inspires imagination. A toy, a learning tool, a challenge, and so much more.
— Cost: $20
— On the Web: http://www.kickstarter.com search for “KitRex”