Drew Swanson and Phillip Kelly co-founded TurtleKing Longboards to combine their individual passions: longboarding and community building. The University of Minnesota students manufacture custom longboards (skateboards built for cruising and transport) and engage the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood by providing internships and programming for local youth. The burgeoning business owners were recently awarded the Purpose and Profit grant from the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship to grow the venture.
Swanson built his first longboard in high school, and soon began selling his creations to friends. Kelly bought into the idea of selling longboards as a means for supporting developing communities. As they began attending the U of M, the friends took the next step.
When they first dreamed up TurtleKing, neither Swanson, a bioproducts marketing and management major, nor Kelly, a global studies major, was versed in the fundamentals of business. But in applying for the Purpose and Profit grant, the young entrepreneurs learned to create a business plan and develop financial projections for the business.
"In the beginning, the longboard company was more of a fun idea in our heads. But the chance to win this grant was an opportunity to legitimize this idea and bring it to fruition," says Kelly.
Swanson and Kelly pitched their idea to Quality Bicycle Products CEO and U of M alumnus Steve Flagg, and Holmes Center Director John Stavig. The judges selected TurtleKing for its potential to build a longboard community, its commitment to providing environmentally friendly transportation, and the founders' vision for the business.
"Phil and Drew demonstrated their passion for promoting a healthy form of transportation while at the same time articulating a plan for building a profitable business," says Stavig.
The Purpose and Profit grant program was designed to encourage the launch of entrepreneurial ventures by U of M students that include a positive societal or environmental impact. TurtleKing Longboards received $2,000 in seed funding and support from the Holmes Center. Since 2008, alumni donations have provided seed capital grants to 21 University students - funding the development of prototypes and enabling these students to bring their ideas to market.
Today, TurtleKing employs two interns, both Cedar-Riverside residents, who spent the summer practicing graphic design, learning business fundamentals, and building longboards. The small business has taken up residence on Washington avenue near the U of M's West Bank. The co-founders hope their summer sales will fund the space through the upcoming school year.
Swanson and Kelly recently hosted six local youths for a two-week program, in which participants built their own longboards. The co-founders hope to someday open the office and workshop up as a public "hacker space" for young people to pursue creative endeavors.
"We want to have a space where youth can come in and realize their ideas for businesses, products, anything," says Swanson. "We want them to bring their ideas to life here."
TurtleKing longboards are available at Swanson and Kelly's shop on the West Bank, and at The Alt Bike and Board Shop.