By Jondi Gumz Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A bad day on the slopes in 2012 turned a couple of skiing enthusiasts into entrepreneurs. Kristin Mehiel and her husband Eric invented a device that helps make ski boots more comfortable.
Ski buffs Eric and Kristin Mehiel of Mad Jack Snowsports made the case for their ski boot invention, winning first place in the second annual Angels by the Sea pitch contest at the Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp.
For their prize, they are invited to present to the Angels, a gorup of 40 investors that make eight to nine investments a year.
Mad Jack Snowsports also won the "people's choice award" and a $100 Costco card in a vote by the audience who heard seven pitches Wednesday night at Cruzio. About 250 people attended.
"Cool product," said one man, walking over to get a closer look at the Mad Jack, priced at $199 for online pre-orders.
Kristin Mehiel, 42, whose career is in sales and marketing, and her husband Eric Mehiel, 43, who chairs the aerospace engineering department at Cal Poly, drove from Los Osos near San Luis Obispo to make the pitch.
"This is our marketplace," she said, referring to Santa Cruz's reputation for embracing an active sports lifestyle.
"You guys rocked it," said Danielle Davenport, a Silicon Valley technologist and investor who was one of the three judges.
A bad day on the slopes in 2012 turned skiing enthusiasts into entrepreneurs.
Kristin Mehiel recalls a "death march to the car" in uncomfortable ski boots with children Madeline and Jackson.
Eric Mehiel, her husband, wasn't complaining but his ski boots had been unbuckled all day. Off he went to the garage to build something better for his wife.
"I loved it," she said.
She brought a prototype outfitted with snowboard boots. The skier steps into the Mad Jack frame with adjustable straps and a platform that locks into each ski.
When people asked her where she got those boots, a business was born, named Mad Jack for the kids.
Eric built three prototypes and filed for a patent in June.
Ski instructors tried out the device in November. The couple was invited to demo the equipment, but had to pass because they didn't have the requisite insurance.
"We have that now," Kristin said.
The Mehiels have $45,000 in seed funding from friends, family and an angel investor, and more than 50 pre-orders on MadJacksSnowsports.com. They are seeking $250,000 for manufacturing and to protect their intellectual property, and plan to hire seasonal workers to assemble Mad Jacks for sale. Then they plan to raise $1 million to $2 million to grow the enterprise and exit via sale in four to five years.
Judge Andrew Wright of Aptos, a transplant from Maine, where he worked in biotech, asked about the size of the market. He thought it would be snowboarders who ski.
"It's 17 percent crossover," said Eric, who is focusing on alpine skiers like himself.
He said he wants to get Mad Jacks available as rentals so skiers can try before they buy.