Kent State Graduate Student Turns Passion Into Successful Business
Kent State University graduate student Ryan Schoeneman of Parma, Ohio, fell in love with guitars when he was a child. He wasn’t just obsessed with their sound, but more so their look.
“I started designing them long before I ever learned to play,” said Schoeneman with a big smile on his face. “It’s a skill I picked up in shop class in high school.”
Schoeneman always wanted his own custom-made guitar, but they were too expensive. So, he started designing them on paper, never knowing that his passion would turn him into an aspiring entrepreneur at the age of 26.
TURNING PASSION INTO PROFIT
As a Kent State graduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences studying ecology, more specifically aquatic sensors and lake metabolism, Schoeneman merged his scientific and computer skills with his desire to design. He started writing additional scripting for existing software that converts a drawing of a guitar into a digital layout. He then created a robot to cut that design out of wood to create a custom-made guitar. He named his company Colby Featherbottom’s Custom Sound Machines.
“I wanted to create something that was totally cool,” Schoeneman said. “We have the coolest job in the world. It’s exciting to make something that looks great and dabbles in design and the rich history of rock ’n’ roll.”
DESIGNING A GUITAR
Potential customers can visit Schoeneman’s website and design a guitar by choosing its shape, size, wood type, wiring and necks – to name a few options. Customers can even add pictures and logos.
The price for his custom-made guitars is significantly low. Schoeneman says the average custom-made guitar can run $6,000 or higher, but he typically charges $1,500. The process can take as long as three weeks or as little as 24 hours – which does cost extra.
Schoeneman says the secret to building his business is making high-quality, affordable guitars combined with personalized customer service.
“We focus on user-friendly service,” Schoeneman said. “The customer can focus on the design and sound they want, and we handle the technical details to make it happen.”
A WINNING BUSINESS PITCH
It was that type of business sense and concept that the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE) sought out for its 2014 Business Pitch Competition.
Schoeneman joined 73 other young entrepreneurs who entered. On Oct. 22, 2014, Schoeneman went before a panel of experts to pitch his business ideas. He won!
With the $20,000 prize, Schoeneman hopes to expand what he believes is the only mobile guitar showroom. It is an Airstream trailer that travels the country to help customers develop a customized guitar.
The prize money also will help with a kiosk that Schoeneman is designing. It allows customers to draw their guitar, whether by hand or using a template. A 3-D printer would then create a miniature mock-up while the information is sent to Schoeneman to start creating the guitar.
After he graduates, Schoeneman hopes to dedicate his full attention to his business. He plans to become the leading name in mass customization for guitars that are completely American-made.
GETTING HELP FROM BLACKSTONE LAUNCHPAD
Schoeneman credits Blackstone LaunchPad at Kent State for helping him succeed in his business. Blackstone LaunchPad is a free program located in the Kent Student Center that offers Kent State students, faculty, staff and alumni support and advice to transform their ideas into thriving businesses.
The Blackstone LaunchPad program at Kent State encouraged Schoeneman to enter the COSE contest even when he didn’t think he had a chance to win.
“He was feeling defeated,” said Kate Harmon, associate director of Blackstone LaunchPad at Kent State. “He had applied for a couple of other things and got turned down. But for the COSE contest, he had the best of both worlds. He had a tech-related idea with an interesting and unique side of manufacturing.”
Schoeneman entered his application at 11:59 p.m., just 60 seconds before the deadline.
“Blackstone LaunchPad has been very helpful with everything,” Schoeneman said. “They really help you get into competitions, and they help you network to advance your business. My advice to anyone with a business or a business idea is to go to Blackstone LaunchPad.”
Schoeneman is glad he did. He is $20,000 richer because of it.
For more information about Schoeneman’s business called Colby Featherbottom’s Custom Sound Machines, visit http://featherbottomguitars.com.
For more information about Blackstone LaunchPad at Kent State, visit www.kent.edu/blackstonelaunchpad.