Award-Winning Combo: Engineering Know-How Plus Entrepreneurial Drive
Inspiring America's youth to study engineering is an Obama administration priority. Many professionals—from trade associations to campus-based groups—focus specifically on getting more women into the engineering pipeline. Participants in Dow's recent virtual conference undercored the importance of exposing young women to ways you can use chemistry and engineering degrees. In this spirit, I chatted with Jennifer Chu, the first place winner (a $15,000 cash prize), in the 2010 New York StartUP Business Plan Competition, funded by the Citi Foundation and hosted by NYPL's Science, Industry and Business Library, SIBL.
First things first, Jenn. Tell us about your business Chu Shu and its award-winning Silver Linings product.
While I was working in finance, I regularly wore my work shoes without stockings. These shoes became discolored on the insides and often started to smell. None of the solutions out there seemed to work. I didn't like the look of Peds no show socks, and Dr. Scholl's insoles made my shoes too tight. When I was laid off, I started Chu Shu to bring innovative products to fashion-conscious, on-the-go people. In 2010. I launched Silver Linings, ultra-thin shoe liners designed for women who like to wear their flats and pumps bare-legged. They're infused with a silver-based technology that inhibits growth of bacterial odor and preserve the life of shoes while keeping feet fresh and odor-free. In fact, some customers who wear stockings are also using Silver Linings, too, for just this reason. They cost $15.99 for three pairs and are available at silverliningsnewyork.com and in select stores listed on our site.
How have you used the StartUP! first place $15,000 cash prize? Can you track ROI (return on investment) on these seed dollars?
Getting the word out about Silver Linings has been a priority for me. I've invested the prize money in PR and trade shows to raise consumer awareness through press coverage and to build out retail distribution. Some success on both fronts has helped us grow and market the brand. Despite a lift in sales from our site and to stores, but it's hard to quantify, at least right now, the impact on brand and the relationships that have come out of these efforts.
Was your chemical engineering background a driver in your R&D, prototyping, and overall devlopment of your product?
Engineering training really helped develop my problem-solving skills. When I think back to my jobs in technology and finance, I worked on revenue and valuation-driven solutions for clients using internet technologies and financial models. For Silver Linings, I needed to solve the problem of sweat and odor in shoes to create an antimicrobial product to serve as a protective barrier between feet and shoes.
For the Silver Linings concept and final product, my chemical engineering expertise helped me define and evaluate the criteria for selecting and combining the right materials. This mindset came in handy while working with my manufacturer to figure out next steps for optimizing the manufacturing process to improve the product, product yield, and cost savings.
Were there specific people or experiences that inspired you to choose an engineering major at college?
My parents were a driving force behind my decision to major in engineering. They placed a lot of importance on math when my brother and I were growing up. Every summer, we had to do practice problems to stay ahead, and we weren’t allowed to use calculators as a shortcut. I think that’s a large reason why we were so comfortable with numbers and problem-solving. I really enjoyed sciences, especially chemistry so chemical engineering seemed to fit my interests best.
SIBL is proud of its success stories like you. In closing, please focus on SIBL information resources you found most helpful at any stage of your business plan development.
I did general research online when looking for suppliers and manufacturers. When I needed more in-depth and technical information for my own background knowledge and my patent, I would search SIBL's extensive catalog of resources. The catalog is online, so I often looked up books from home before picking them up at the library. The librarians at the Altman Desk were always extremely helpful with my search.
Have any tips for startups?
There are a lot of things to think about when you’re starting a business: is the product or service different from what’s already out there, do enough people want or need it, can I make money fom it? A start-up requires passion and commitment, because it’s hard work. Everything will take longer than you think. But, it can be incredibly rewarding too.
An entrepreneur gauging the need for her product or service can use a combination of the following SIBL databases for industry projections, market research, trend analyses, and data on consumers and competitors.
Available from home with a library card
On-site at SIBL