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04-27-2016

Sky Skarf: Spotlight on Startups at Clarkson University Shipley Center for Innovation

The philosophy “Enjoy the journey, not just the destination” is more than a saying to Heather Hlad and Amber Stevens. It's the main point of their business, Sky Skarf.

Amber Stevens and Heather HladEach of these two friends and business partners is well traveled and experienced in sales and marketing. They've drawn upon their experiences and passion to create their product -- an attractive, comfortable and versatile travel scarf that hit the market this spring.

“I'm an international sales manager, and I've taken a lot of really long uncomfortable flights,” says Heather Hlad. “In 2013, I was on a flight leaving Munich. The plane was grounded for eight hours straight because of a snowstorm. While I was stuck on the plane, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to relax if I could just get comfortable.”

That thought stayed with her so when she got home, she “borrowed Grandma's sewing machine and start prototyping.”

Hlad believes firmly that every problem must have a solution, thus Sky Skarf was born. More attractive and versatile than the standard travel pillow, it's a soft, quilted product to snuggle with as well as a defensive shield against the inevitable noise, breezes, and sneezes travelers must endure.

The partners tested different fabrics for Sky Skarf, and held a professional focus group in Bentonville, Ark., where15 women offered opinions on the product. Through consistent customer feedback the Sky Skarf travel scarf has evolved into much more than just a travel accessory with many more applications for its use. The product has lent a hand in providing comfort to patients undergoing treatment, recovering from surgery, and to individuals with conditions requiring them to sleep in an upright position.

The women live in Lewis County, N.Y., near Lowville, so they're keeping their roots local. Sky Skarf is currently made in Liverpool, N.Y., and although the business partners are considering other manufacturing options as the business grows, it's important to them that their product is made in the United States.

While they drew upon their passion for travel as inspiration for this venture, they honed their business savvy through the many options for education and advice available in the North Country.

“The biggest thing we've learned is that success lies on the other side of fear,” Hlad says. “Some people are afraid to start a business for lack of education or experience. Well here's a shout-out to the North Country. Reach out for all the assistance that's available in the community – small business programs and workshops, classes. We were helped by so many people in so many ways.”

One powerful resource they drew upon was the Shipley Center for Innovation at Clarkson University. The Shipley Center guides innovators through the complex process of commercialization, providing them with the practical tools to transform ideas into reality. This includes mentorship, and information on marketing, patents, and branding, etc. Additionally, the Shipley Center oversees the University's Peyton Hall business incubator, providing office space and guidance to a wide range of enterprises.

About 25 to 30 new startup companies are created through the Center every year, and another 75 to 100 projects could be startups, notes Matthew Draper, executive director of the Shipley Center for Innovation. He applauds them all.

“The startups are stars,” Draper says. “They're the ones who say 'I can do that,' and inspire others.”

“The Shipley Center is an active business adviser for us,” Hlad adds. “It's been a big help and they know about a lot of things going on that can benefit us.”

At this point, the Sky Skarf partners are focusing all their attention on getting their product to market.

“We've both had a ton of experience traveling and want to bring some of what we've learned to you through our Sky Skarf brand. This is the first of many products we want to launch and we'll do it on social media and through our website,” Hlad says. “We invite people to be a part of our journey, so like us on Facebook and watch as we grow.”

Planning a trip? You're going to want a Sky Skarf. Check out their video to see why. You can order it through the website www.skyskarf.com.

Been thinking over an idea for a business? Learn more about the Shipley Center for Innovation at Clarkson University at www.clarkson.edu/shipley.

Photo caption: Sky Skarf partners Amber Stevens (left) and Heather Hlad.

[A photograph for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/stevens-hlad.jpg .]

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or aharrison@clarkson.edu.]

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