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Penn Staters Found American-Made Vortic Watch Company

An idea hatched by two students on Penn State’s golf course came to fruition over the past two years, along with the help of two other students who needed to complete a class project.

Four Penn State alumni have taken to entrepreneurship, launching an entirely American-made line of watches and leather goods as part of a startup watch company. Using only American manufacturing and primarily locally-sourced and vintage materials, Vortic Watches wants to offer a genuine product customers can feel good buying.

Vortic Watches began its fledgling days right on Penn State’s campus. Two of the co-founders were playing golf on Penn State’s White Course in spring of 2012 when one became annoyed with how his non-adjustable watch moved around on his wrist as he swung his clubs. “I wish I could tighten my watch,” Tyler Wolfe recalled himself thinking. “Yeah, it’d be awesome if you could just twist the bezel or something and the band would get tighter,” R.T. Custer replied.

This idea was put on hold for a little while until another co-founder, Frank Barber, hopped on board, helping to create the first 3D-printed prototype of the product later that semester in a rapid prototyping class, IE 307. That same semester, a fourth co-founder with a business edge, Mac Frederick, created the group’s first business plan as part of an entrepreneurship course, ENGR 425.

Wolfe said professors working with the students loved the group’s ideas and encouraged them to file patents for their work. They connected with a patent attorney at a Penn State networking event who helped them to file their first patent later that year.

The next semester, the four co-founders sponsored a capstone project through the Penn State Learning Factory, where a team of industrial engineering students helped them to build an initial set of prototypes. This was one of the only student-sponsored capstone projects to ever exist in industrial engineering.

Once the group’s first patent went through, the co-founders won Boeing’s Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering Innovation Competition, which led to a several thousand dollar grant to continue their innovations. In spring of 2014, the group again sponsored two capstone teams who worked on the watch’s adjustment system and wristband system. The teams were extremely successful, winning multiple awards from Penn State, including a first place prize sought by more than 250 other teams.

After graduation, the co-founders moved out to Fort Collins, Colorado, where Vortic is now based. Just like many of us college students, though, they ran out of money over the summer and decided they needed to start selling a product to stay in business. They eventually released their original Twist-To-Fit Technology. That’s when they came up with The American Artisan Series watch currently being sold on Kickstarter. The Artisan Series features early 1900s watch movements preserved in modern stainless steel faces and comes in a handmade wooden box made by a local Fort Collins carpenter. Vortic hit its $10,000 fundraising goal in just 12 hours and has now raised more $27,000.

This week, the company also announced the creation of The America Makes Foundation, which seeks to encourage millenials to work in the manufacturing field through sponsored scholarships. The scholarships will range from $1,000 to $5,000 for technical schooling and will come paired with a $500 to $1,000 cash investment in the winner’s idea. Unlimited access to Vortic’s investors, prototyping machines, and manufacturers is another added perk. Entries for the scholarship can be submitted as videos to the foundation’s website.

The foundation will officially launch in January, but in the meantime, Vortic is continuing fundraising by selling handmade leather goods on its Kickstarter. Though its American-made vintage movement watches are on the pricey side, you can also buy an America Makes personalized leather bracelet, which is friendlier to your wallet. All the money is going to a great cause, though. Initial money raised funds production equipment, with further funds directly benefiting scholarship awards.

To donate to Vortic’s Kickstarter, click here.

About the Author

Melissa McCleery

Melissa is a senior majoring in Women’s Studies, Political Science, and Spanish. In the little free time she has, Melissa likes to cook, spend all her money at The Phyrst, and add to her collection of blue and white striped clothing. She can be reached via Twitter (@mkmccleery) or email ([email protected]).

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