By Stephanie Kalina-Metzger
Aquito Young, inventor of a blanket that contains an integrated pouch, takes his concept from idea, to reality. Photo: Provided.
Aquito Young, a social worker and now inventor and startup founder, was frequently struggling with his child kicking off their bed covers in the middle of the night. This simple, common parental problem was the impetus he needed to launch Koveroo.
As Young sought a solution for this problem, he soon found his answer: a blanket — dubbed the Koveroo — that contains an integrated pouch, which prevents the user from inadvertently exposing the lower part of their body to the open air. Unlike a traditional blanket, users can step into the Koveroo for 360-degree coverage. Another unique feature is a built-in seating area to keep customers dry when sitting on wet, cold surfaces, which makes it especially valuable to sports fans who enjoy watching games outside in a cold stadium.
“Unlike typical blankets, this one … also recirculates body heat to keep users warmer,” said Young.
“This was my ‘aha’ moment. I always wanted to go into business and this was my perfect opportunity,” he added.
What the budding entrepreneur struggled with, however, was the process of taking his idea from concept to reality. He knew he had a good product, but when it came to marketing it, he was at a loss as to how to begin.
This is where the FastTrack Accelerator program came into play. The 10-week program is offered by Penn State’s Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank and helps potential businesses not only avoid common startup mistakes, but also build a plan to test the market and launch their businesses.
Young and his colleague Justin Thomas, who now serves as vice president of sales at Koveroo, worked with Elizabeth Hay, LaunchBox director, to hone their concept.
“She helped us with things we didn’t know and we learned about topics like customer acquisition and performance indexes, which help businesses gauge how concepts would fare in an ecommerce situation,” said Thomas.
Another important topic they tackled as part of the accelerator program, according to Thomas, was creating a value proposition.
“The program moves fast [and] it’s a lot, but with only six of us [entrepreneurs] taking it, we became like a family, all with different backgrounds. It was awesome to be with people with like minds and we shared and supported each other in our endeavors,” said Thomas.
Koveroo in use. Photo: Provided.
However, both Young and Thomas admit that starting Koveroo hasn’t been a walk in the park, at least financially.
“Just acquiring a utility patent alone costs $9,000,” said Young, explaining that when you’re first starting out, especially as a Black business owner, you don’t always have access to a financier.
“At this point, I feel lucky, however, that there’s no debt on our balance sheet and I’m now in a position to bring in a partner with some equity to help with financial resources,” he said, adding that what the company could use at this point is a mentor.
“The program moves fast [and] it’s a lot, but with only six of us [entrepreneurs] taking it, we became like a family, all with different backgrounds. It was awesome to be with people with like minds and we shared and supported each other in our endeavors."
The two are also planning to take part in various Penn State pitch competitions to get feedback from experts on taking further steps forward in marketing their products.
“Right now, we’re targeting local retail stores and networking with the Amish to get into some of the Amish markets in Lancaster,” said Thomas, who hails from the area.
The team is also working with an organization founded by Penn State athlete Sean Clifford. “Limitless NIL is going to show an athlete using one of our products and Studio One Photography run by PSU students and alumni will do the photography,” said Young.
The two additionally plan to expand their product line in 2023, with a waterproof version of the Koveroo.
“We expect that consumers will buy them for inclement weather and that they will come in handy for many spectator sports, outdoor concerts and more,” said Young.
Young hopes that his story will inspire anyone first starting out in business and offers a few words of advice: “Follow your passion. Never give up. It may take a while, but in the end, it will be worth it,” he said.