When Design, Manufacturing, and Marketing meet

In late 2003 the press department of Rensselaer Polytechnic, Troy/NY announced the following line:

“Orca Gear: Taking Outdoor Safety Gear By Storm: The team, comprised of students with engineering and business backgrounds, designed a zip-in liner that self-inflates upon immersion. Under the umbrella of their newly formed company “Orca Gear,” the group is currently setting up international manufacturing capabilities and negotiating manufacturing and distribution agreements. …!

Only one year later this initiative resulted in a company called Float Tech® Inc. and on the company’s website you can read:

“Float Tech® Inc. (formally known as Orca Gear Inc), began as an M.B.A. class project at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in April 2002. The year long class project rapidly evolved into a company, which has recently been recognized as New York’s Capital Region’s “Most Promising New Enterprise.” (Awarded in November 2004)”

During the research stage of their project, the student team — Brian Arthur, Jeffrey Betz, Michael Farmer, Michael Lobsinger, and Cecilia Domingos — scouted out marinas near campus and in their hometowns. As a consequence part of their field research revealed that very often seamen refuse to use a life vest due to a) usability issues since you can hardly work comfortably with the traditional somehow bulky vests and b) due to the somehow non-appealing traditional design which reminds more on freshman equipment rather than professional gear.

Consequently the task for the MBA student group was “ … integrating the technology with the jacket’s physical design,” said Jeffrey Betz, a civil engineer who served as project manager. “We worked with the R&D department of a sports apparel company near campus to come up with models that blended technology with fashion, while still being cost-effective.” The resulting product was a “… nautically styled jacket, sans suspenders, with a liner that automatically inflates upon immersion in water. The jacket looks and feels like a regular windbreaker until called into use, and then it fully inflates within seconds.” and sells at a “price that won’t sink anyone’s boat: $250 to $300.”

For me one of the motivating aspects of this lively and inspiring story clearly is the combination of the various disciplines and mindsets involved in this joint forces project. With a quite similar variety of multi disciplinary professional background among Zollverein School MBAs I’m pretty sure we will soon hear about similar projects soon. The first class of Zollverein School MBAs will finish their master theses this summer and students will graduate in early fall 2006. Stay tuned!

Since Fall 2005 their life jacket received the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Approval as a Type V inflatable life jacket with Type III performance which passes “the Coast Guard’s turn-over test,” said Michael Lobsinger, Float Tech’s Chief Technology Officer. “This means an unconscious victim, face-down, will turn over so their nose and mouth are out of the water.”
(Story via: Handelsblatt MBA Newsletter)

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