Most college-bound students opt to spend their summer months coasting into the next stage of their lives. Coasting doesn’t suit Ryan Rist. Coasters, on the other hand…
An incoming freshman student at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, Rist turned his senior capstone project at Brookfield High School in Brookfield, Conn., into an exercise in entrepreneurialism.
And along the way, he has earned recognition from national TV and print media.
The 18-year-old is the founder of Rist Custom Coasters, a drink coaster with a rubberized circular bottom and a felt insert. The inserts, which can be personalized to the customer’s liking using logos or family pictures, for example, absorb run-off and keep moisture from collecting on the surface of a coffee table.
Brookfield High School encourages its graduating seniors to engage in a capstone project for the final three weeks of their high school careers, during which students can accept an internship, perform an independent study or complete community service.
Rist, who will study Finance at Fox School, said he had kicked around his coaster creation for six months prior to the capstone, and decided he would use his three-week capstone to finalize the design of his prototype.
“That’s when my dad (Ken) and I used a lathe in our basement and made the design out of acrylic,” Rist said. “Then we poured liquid rubber onto that, and we were left with the mold.”
Seeking additional funding, Rist turned to Kickstarter, an online funding platform. He set the fundraising bar at $500, for a product design to which he committed $1,200 in personal funds. In the first two hours, Rist cleared $500. He’s since garnered 167 backers who pledged more than $3,500.
“I had known about Kickstarter for a while,” he said, “and I was wanting to put a product of my own on there. When I had my idea for improved drink coasters, I knew it was a product that I could actually develop, yet still be worthy to put on Kickstarter.”
Showing a shade more of his ingenuity, Rist said he conducted most of his promotional work through Twitter, establishing a way that new followers to his account would receive a direct message encouraging them to visit his coaster page at Kickstarter.
Rist has developed a fanbase – internationally, domestically and in his hometown. He said he has filled orders originating from 35 states and 15 foreign countries. He also drawn praise from Sue Troupe, Brookfield High School’s school-to-career coordinator.
“He is an amazing high school student,” Troupe said, in an interview with The Danbury (Conn.) News Times. “In my 23 years at Brookfield High School, I have seen many students come up with fantastic ideas, but not take the next difficult steps.”
Fox News CT has covered Rist’s entrepreneurial exploits. So has the Fox Business Network, which included his coasters in the “American Success” feature in the July 16 broadcast of Making Money with Charles Payne.
“I didn’t know what to expect or how many people would buy a set,” Rist said. “I was hoping to at least make my money back, maybe make $1,000 or $2,000. Making $3,500 (through Kickstarter) was a pleasant surprise.”
For those interested in committing to Rist’s venture, his Kickstarter project has been closed, as he works to produce coasters to fulfill existing orders. Rist said he has plans to launch a website to offer the coasters.
When he arrives at Temple in August, Rist said he has aspirations of founding an entrepreneurial club, wherein members would take an idea and turn to Kickstarter in attempt to sustain a business model.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
“A little,” Rist said, “except this time, I’d be operating it with the help of a group of people.”
Fortunately for Rist, programs like this are available at Temple.
In Creativity and Organizational Innovation, a general-education course, students produce mock Kickstarter pitches as a final project. Robert McNamee, associate professor of Strategic Management, worked with members of the Entrepreneurial Student Association (ESA) and Innovate & Create Living Learning Community (LLC) to prototype a for-students, by-students Crowdfunding support program in 2013-14. ESA, which is open to all Temple students, serves as a springboard toward learning, networking and launching start-ups. CLL offers freshmen a chance to live in a residence hall with like-minded students, with a focus on entrepreneurship.
“Early entrepreneurship is getting over fears and putting your idea out there,” said McNamee, who also serves as managing director of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Institute at Temple. “It’s fantastic to see somebody in high school, like Ryan, putting their idea out there and testing the waters to see what happens. This is the epitome of the Lean Startup approach—launch a minimum viable product, gather evidence and feedback, pivot, and scale up.”