Poole College undergrad is helping to launch Vybe, a new approach to making sunglasses
Two baseball teammates, one finishing high school and one now in college, have been working on a product that they envision will revolutionize the eyewear industry.
Later this spring, they will be launching their small business venture, Vybe Sunglasses, offering customers the option to pick their own color combinations for the front frame, side arms, ear pieces, and the polarized lenses.
The two entrepreneurs - Chase Denison, now a senior at Apex High School in Apex, N.C., and founder and chief executive officer of Vybe, and his business partner Kyle May, now a sophomore at NC State University Poole College of Management – founded Vybe Sunglasses in the summer of 2012.
Responding to a need
They launched the venture in response to Denison’s frustration at not being able to order a customized pair from his then-favorite sunglasses manufacturer – or any other manufacturer of quality sunglasses.
They have since found a manufacturer, after sending hundreds of email queries to manufacturers worldwide and narrowing down their options to three finalists. They chose Kevin, a manufacturer in Eastern China that has a background in making eyewear, and are preparing for Vybe’s launch.
Their product has gone through a few iterations, but remains true to the partners’ initial intent. “We knew we wanted interchangeable sunglasses, but it took eight different prototypes to capture everything we wanted,” May said, noting that their manufacturer’s experience with eyewear has helped in this process.
“Like all successful entrepreneurs, Kyle and Chase have identified an opportunity and acted upon it. They have quickly created competitive advantages and differentiation that will aid in their success," said Lewis Sheat, senior lecturer in entreprepreneurship at Poole College.
Denison and May are not new to the startup world. In 2010, when he was 14, Denison launched 919 Clothing, which now is operating in more than 25 countries. He is applying what he learned from that venture – including logistics, graphic design and customer service – to Vybe. His long-term goal is to become a successful entrepreneur and to mentor others as they start their own businesses.
May is focusing on the Vybe brand, applying what he learned through his involvement in DECA, a global organization for high school and college students interested in entrepreneurship and leadership in marketing, finance, hospitality and management, and what he is now learning through his marketing and entrepreneurship courses at NC State Poole College.
His goal is to see Vybe Sunglasses succeed as an elite eyewear competitor. Beyond his vision for Vybe, May aspires to be marketing director at The Wide World of Sports Complex in Disney World, to get his master’s in business, and to become a sports agent.
The path to entrepreneurship for Denison and May has included studying, including courses in microeconomics, macroeconomics, marketing, and introduction to small business. They both also have developed strong skills in social media techniques.
Drawing on Poole faculty expertise, student research, coursework
“We also believe a lot of our great brainstorming sessions have come from picking the brains of some of the amazing professors at NC State, and they really have been more than fantastic mentors,” May said.
He cites especially three of his Poole College instructors: Lewis Sheats, in entrepreneurship; Deborah Brown, in business management; and Patrice Nealon, in marketing. “They are great minds to bounce ideas off,” May said, adding that their combined real world experiences “are an indispensable resource” that has helped the team in its decision making.
Vybe also served as a real world class project for students in Nealon’s marketing research course. “Working with Kyle and Chase as our client during Vybe’s pre-launch was a rewarding experience for all,” Nealon said.
Catching the attention of the folks at Sundance
“Fifteen teams conducted in-depth research for a ‘cool’ product they could relate to and get excited about,” she said.
“Things got really exciting when the teams received the good news about Vype Sunglasses being invited to the Sundance Film Festival. Being recognized during the product’s pre-launch served as a reminder of the power of social media and also the relevance of each team’s research,” Nealon said.
The students’ research findings, including in-depth qualitative and quantitative findings and market strategy recommendations, were presented to May and Denison.
What about that Sundance Film Festival offer?
“We were so surprised when we were contacted by them,” May said. “They said they look for new up and coming products to be displayed during the event and thought our product would make a real splash. Unfortunately, we were unable to attend due to lack of having substantial inventory. We have been in contact with them, though, as well as a few other events such as the Academy Awards and MTV Movie awards. Once we have product we plan on taking advantage of the opportunities that have been presented,” he said.
Gearing up for production
As they gear up for their first production run of 4,200 pairs of sunglasses, the two entrepreneurs are learning to navigate through the process of securing startup funding – a challenging step for most young businesses, May said, because it is difficult to find an investor who is willing to take a risk on a new company.
As they search for an investor, the two are using their personal funds to cover startup expenses. That includes creating a line of inaugural Vybe t-shirts that they are marketing through their website, which they are updating along with marketing plans in anticipation of the Vybe launch.
In March, they also will launch a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, a crowdfunding platform that startups use to raise capital.
“We believe we have a very unique product, and that with the enthusiastic and passionate student body, the knowledgeable and caring professors, and the heart and persistence of those in the company, we have the perfect formula to have Vybe Sunglasses be not only a campus-wide phenomenon, but to really take off as an elite eyewear company.”
May is originally from Boca Raton, Florida. He graduated from Apex High School in 2012; his parents are Daryl and Kathi May, now residing in Apex, N.C. Denison lives in Apex with his mother, Amy Denison.