Three student entrepreneurs from Startup Aggieland, Texas A&M University’s student-run business accelerator, have launched a storefront operation, Lynx Toys, at the Post Oak Mall’s new retail incubator.
This novel approach to encouraging economic development and support for innovation in business, marks the first time that a Texas mall has provided free retail space for a student-led initiative.
The company, launched in May 2014 through Startup Aggieland by MultiRag inventor Madison Jones, Texas A&M Class of ‘14, is co-owned by Matt Kinsel, Class of ’15, and Jared Knowles, Class of ’16.
“Our product lets kids build whatever they can imagine out of pool noodles through the use of our Lynx noodle connectors,” Knowles said.
Located in between Great American Cookie Co. and Buckle, Lynx’ mall display, which will serve as headquarters for the summer, towers with a clearance of about three inches and contains over 100 noodles and 180 connectors.
“We are in an exciting and prime location that you can see from three different ways within the mall,” explained Knowles.
ABOUT THE SPACE
Post Oak Mall’s retail incubator, which allows Lynx to set up shop, first began as a concept cultivated over two years ago by Startup Aggieland’s Shelly Brenckman, marketing coordinator and group mentor.
With the encouragement and assistance from another Lynx mentor, Burl Haigwood of the Bryan/College Station Chamber of Commerce, Brenckman approached Post Oak Mall, owned CBL Management, with a proposal for the lease.
“Justin [Burgdorff, Post Oak’s assistant general manager] embraced this ‘learning lab’ concept almost immediately with an open mind and with enthusiastic ideas of his own for the space,” Brenckman said, adding the positive exchange for both the accelerator and the mall were mutual.
Burgdorff also had high praises for the team.
“The biggest thing that stood out to me while working with Matt, Madison and Jared was their willingness to try something new without being scared,” Burgdorff said. “It takes a lot of guts to open a new business and even more guts to step into a realm unknown since they have primarily sold their merchandise online.”
Kelli Hollinger, director of the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M’s Mays Business School and co-sponsor of the team’s participation in the National Retail Federation’s Shop.org conference in Seattle, emphasized that “by having a tangible space to demonstrate the fun and creativity that Lynx Toys offers for kids, shoppers will understand the benefit in owning the product.”
CONNECTING THE DOTS
In addition to Brenckman and Haigwood, Lynx’ other mentors include “T” Getterman, recently retired CFO of SuperCuts; Chris Valletta, co-founder of Mission AthleteCare and a member of Texas A&M’s Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship (CNVE) Aggie 100; and Chris Westfall, official pitch coach at Startup Aggieland and a pitch coach for the ABC television show “Shark Tank.”
“Without Startup Aggieland, I don’t know where we would be with our product,” Knowles said.
After meeting the group at an event on campus, Haigwood took them under his wing and immersed them in the local Bryan/College Station business scene, introducing the fledgling businessmen at various Chamber AfterHours networking events and inviting them to pitch the chamber’s Inner Circle members at the “Chamber Tank.”
Don Lewis, an award-winning management faculty member who teaches several entrepreneurship courses, said Startup Aggieland “leverages as many campus and off-campus resources as possible to help our students bootstrap their businesses for a better chance at survival and to create sustainable local jobs.”
Lewis co-founded Startup Aggieland with Brenckman; Richard Lester, executive director of the CNVE; Blake Petty, director of the CNVE; Jorge Vanegas, dean of the College of Architecture; and Rodney Hill, professor of architecture.
On average, Startup Aggieland launches 24 student-owned companies each semester.
“These young men have been the ‘poster children’ for our program,” Lewis said. “They represent Startup Aggieland, the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship, the Center for Retailing Studies, Mays Business School and Texas A&M University very well.”
Lynx was awarded first place in the Alto 211 Best Pitch Award at Startup Aggieland’s Silicon Valley Bank Shank Frenzy in May and traveled to Houston to pitch for scouts for ABC’s “Shark Tank.”
For their tenacity and leadership at Startup Aggieland, Kinsel also received the third annual Brenckman Bulldog Award and accepted on behalf of himself and his team.
“Last summer, we had no idea that we would be a team,” Knowles said, “but, over the past few months we have really been able to focus and push our product to the next level. It’s been a crazy year!”
The team has high hopes for the future, already talking of returning next year with a new generation of Lynx noodle connectors.
“We’ve learned so much about the business and life; there’s no way we could have done this without the support of the Texas A&M University community and the Aggie Network, specifically the company’s investors, Harlie Frost of Affinity Labs and Russell White ‘93. Without them, there would be no Lynx Toys, and for that we are grateful,” Knowles shared.
Together, the group has sold several hundred units of their “pool noodle connector” to ToySplash.com and Zulilly.
According to Brenckman, “we call [Lynx Toys] our ‘dream team’ for their hustle, coachability, and commitment.”
Out of the 2,200 units manufactured for their Post Oak Mall launch, Knowles estimates that they will sell out of their product by Independence Day.
ABOUT STARTUP AGGIELAND
Startup Aggieland is an award-winning business accelerator for student startups launching from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Opened in January 2013 with one full-time employee and one part-time manager, Startup Aggieland was named among the top three student entrepreneurship programs nationwide by the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) out of more than 200 chapters in 43 states. That same year, Startup Aggieland was named the recipient of a Rising Star Award for Tech Commercialization by the Research Valley Partnership. Ten of Startup Aggieland’s student ventures have raised a combined $2 million-plus in equity capital and financing. Startup Aggieland is sponsored by the Mays Business School’s Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship; Dwight Look College of Engineering; College of Architecture; the Office of the Vice President of Research; and the Research Valley Partnership.