A common misconception about the current landscape of entrepreneurship is that it is now an exclusively tech-based world. That misconception is not for nothing –– after all, Silicon Valley successes are hard to ignore as a motivational factor and benchmark for aspiring entrepreneurs.
At 3 Day Startup, however, we know and support entrepreneurship of all kinds from students of all backgrounds. Of course, many of our alumni companies excel in that tech space. But we also see our alumni develop some truly incredible non-tech companies solving problems in new and creative ways.
Pro-Grip Livestock Solutions is one such company. We spoke with founder, RJ Baldwin about how he decided to become an entrepreneur, Pro-Grip’s decision to use and unconventional material to solve a problem in the agriculture industry, and balancing growing a company with being a student.
For Baldwin, being an entrepreneur in the agriculture space was the right fit from the very beginning, having worked with produce since he was young. But it was at the 3DS program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that Baldwin and his team began developing what would become Pro-Grip Livestock Solutions.
As a 3DS participant:
Like so many of our participants, at his 3 Day Startup program, Baldwin found himself among like-minded people and quickly saw just how much he could accomplish in the weekend.
“The group I was in for the 3DS program is the same one that became Pro-Grip, but our initial idea at the program was different from what our company became. We originally thought of taking old tires to grind up and make what you see on football fields and playgrounds and stuff. But we quickly realized that it was going to be far too expensive to break into that kind of market. It was pretty well saturated. But we decided that we wanted to stick with tires and we pivoted and that’s how we ended up with the woven tire mats that we have now. So that was pretty much the birth of Pro-Grip Livestock Solutions.
But 3 Day Startup was a great experience. In those three days we got to meet a lot of people, hear a lot of great ideas, and work on our own idea. It really gave birth to our company.”
Why old tires?
Part of why Baldwin and Pro-Grip have been so successful in continuing their venture is that they started with a problem that they were all intimately familiar with.
As to their unconventional use of materials, Baldwin explains: “We all come from agriculture backgrounds and we were trying to identify a problem that we all saw from our different backgrounds. Some of us came from cattle, some of us came from produce, and some of us came from row crop. And we were trying to figure out what an issue was that we all faced in our respective sectors. When we really put our heads to it, it was that old nasty pile of tires that sits behind the shed that no one wanted to pay the disposal fee on. And you see it on everybody’s farm across the country. We were trying to figure out what we could do with those old tires. And that’s how we started off.
With our product, we make a woven tire mat. They are designed to reduce livestock slippage. So if you have a slick piece of concrete that you have your cattle walking across, you can lay one of our mats down and they really help improve the traction for the livestock and prevent serious injuries if they do fall.”
Growing within and without the market.
Baldwin and Pro-Grip –– all students –– made each other one promise when they were trying to make their own sale: that their first customer wouldn’t be one of their parents. And they made good on that promise, making the first sale to a neighboring livestock farmer (and their second to his brother). They have been growing in the community ever since and are now considering expanding outside of the livestock market.
One where they want to scale, Baldwin explains: “We are finding that on a lot of industrial sites mudholes area big problem or when they have to cross a piece of concrete with equipment, our mats do a great job of protecting the concrete. So we’ve been trying to sell to those markets now as well.”
A venture worth working for
Running a startup is never easy, but it can be particularly difficult when you are in school at the same time. And for Pro-Grip, that challenge is compounded by the fact that they make each one of their mats by hand.
But for Baldwin and his team, the exhaustion is all worth it. “There are so many rewarding moments,” Baldwin explains. “But maybe the most rewarding is when you’re talking to someone and they say ‘Oh! You’re with Pro-grip? I’ve seen your mats, they’re so cool. I like what you guys are doing and I like your product.’”
With that validation, Pro-Grip Livestock Solutions continues to move forward to grow their customer base to more and more people across the country.
Congratulations, Pro-Grip! 3 Day Startup is rooting for you the whole way.
Start a 3 Day Startup program at your university or in your community to experience it first hand.