It didn’t take Schaeffer Warnock long to fall in love with Utah’s ski country. The first time he hit the slopes at Alta as a 14-year-old, he knew being outdoors during the winter would be a part of his future.
His passion grew in high school, when he and buddy Jake Nelson made the rounds at Snowbird, Brighton and several Park City resorts. In the classroom at Skyline High School, the teenagers had their first brush with entrepreneurship through designing a clothing line as part of a graphic design class —an endeavor they launched as their first startup after school, pushing hoodies and hats through a company website.
That experience set the stage for the two to become college entrepreneurs when enrolling at the University of Utah, where this year the two are students at the David Eccles School of Business. While many of their peers are beginning the job hunt for post-graduation life, Warnock and Nelson have traveled further down the road of entrepreneurial success with the launch of their own company, Aura Optics, which creates customized goggles that are changing the landscape of the ski wear industry.
The students’ product is based on a simple concept. Avid skiers and snowboarders end up spending several hundred dollars on several pairs of ski goggles, with lenses designed to help navigate the weather conditions of the day.
What if, Warnock and Nelson wondered, they could design a customizable goggle with interchangeable lenses at a more affordable price point of $100 to $200?
With help from the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute at the University of Utah, Warnock and Nelson worked to develop a prototype for their idea. They launched a fundraising campaign at kickstarter.com to help finance production, raising about $30,000 in the process over the course of this past summer. That money, coupled with grant funding from the U’s Entrepreneur Club —which is affiliated with the Lassonde Institute —assisted in moving production forward.
“During our time working at ski-snowboard shops, we noticed a huge price break in goggles. Either customers shelled out and bought a high-end pair of goggles, or they paid much less but sacrificed performance. When customers paid top dollar for high-end equipment they found themselves limited in color options or were unable to find exactly what they wanted. There had to be a better choice,” said Nelson.
“As our individual collection of goggles continued to grow, we became increasingly frustrated with even top-of-the-line equipment. Jake and I found ourselves taking two or three pairs of goggles for each ski day because we knew they would fog,” added Warnock.
“We decided if we had this much trouble others had to be having the same problem. We set out to make a high performance goggle that performs better, costs less and is more customizable than any other goggle on the market. We determined that we could do better than what was out there,” said Warnock.
This winter Warnock and Nelson have officially begun production of their goggles, which tout a variety of characteristics that make them unique to the marketplace. The goggles are designed to bring skiers and riders clarity while riding down the mountain, and also while traveling back up. Warnock and Nelson said the product appeals to customers because of five elements:
– Spherical Lenses, which provide a wider range of vision, minimize distortion and offer superior protection against fog.
– AuraFlow, a concept in which five vents let the goggles and the face of a skier-rider breathe, preventing moisture and heat buildup.
– HighFit, a design element of the overall fit of the goggles, in which they sit higher on the face to allow a skier-rider an easier way to breathe.
– SoftFit, a design element in which the thermoplastic polyurethane frames are 30 percent softer, which allows them to be more flexible in order to give a skier-rider a better fit for comfort and wind blocking.
– HandsOn, a concept which ensures a skier-rider stays fog free everywhere on the mountain, by doubling down on anti-fog. The goggles contain both a preliminary manufactured anti-fog coat, and also a secondary treatment applied by hand to every lens.
Response to their product has been overwhelmingly positive, with Warnock and Nelson moving on to the next phase of marketing their company and exploring its evolution.
“We are, first and foremost, a company created by those who ride, for those who ride,” said Nelson. “Our motto is that we strive for perfection. We’re only getting started and I can’t wait to see what’s next.”
“We love the look of our goggles and everything about them,” added Warnock. “We’re glad we are bringing something new to an industry that we are passionate about.”
The students’ success story is one of many to emerge from the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, an interdisciplinary division of the David Eccles School of Business, which offers a wide variety of programs and engagement opportunities for students to learn about all phases of the entrepreneurship and innovation process.
“The story of Aura Optics is one that shows how experiential learning can push students to reach new goals and find themselves on the fast track to entrepreneurial success before graduation in some cases,” said Troy D’Ambrosio, executive director of the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute. “We are already a nationally-ranked university for entrepreneurship. We are proud of the role we play in helping students like those involved with Aura Optics pursue their dreams.”
For more information about Aura Optics, visit auraoptics.com.