UW-Green Bay grad starts Skip the Warmup, develops heated knee sleeve
GREEN BAY – Sydney Gang, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, had a problem. She enjoyed working out, but struggled with a bad knee. She knew she should do a good warmup before exercising, but didn’t like spending time to do so.
Like many business ideas that start with a problem that needs solving, she was already thinking about how she could do so when a class at UWGB gave the push needed.
“I came up with the solution when I was taking an entrepreneurship class in February 2022,” Gang said. “For the semester, we had to create a business that solved a problem. I thought about what my biggest problem was and it was my knee. I did some digging in the market on what was available and came up with my own prototype.”
The original design was basic. She identified that a major issue faced by people with knee problems was a lack of heat if a proper warmup is not part of a workout.
“By adding heat, the ligaments can take on more force,” she said.
To add heat, she purchased a simple knee sleeve and inserted a battery-operated heating element. Gang was happy to find out, when testing it, that it worked well. Her instructors agreed and encouraged her to enter business pitch competitions. She named the business, Skip the Warmup, LLC.
That led to four pitch competitions including events in Chicago, Nashville, and locally. In the inaugural WISys Innovation On-Ramp Pitch Competition at UWGB, she took first place. At each, she felt encouraged to go forward.
“The competitions were great and I learned a lot,” she said. “At first, I felt kind of lost, but as I got advice on pitching, it became easier.”
She also found some excellent mentors. In Nashville, she was paired with a female executive as mentor and received advice on what she was doing right and what she might want to change. She became part of a collegiate accelerator and joined an international women’s business council. Locally, she joined the Urban Hub and the Build Up Tech Accelerator, a program of the Greater Green Bay Chamber, directed by Lamaar Banks.
“The Urban Hub has helped me so much,” Gang said. “I don’t know how to describe it all. Before going there, I felt like I was kind of in the dark and the only experience I had was my Etsy shops (where she sold trendy jewelry and other crafts). I love Lamaar and (Urban Hub staff member) Kendra, and since they can’t be experts in every field, they bring in speakers to give us expert advice.”
Each experience has enlarged her network with people who want to help her make the startup a success. As a participant in the Build Up Tech Accelerator program, she has individualized coaching, virtual and in-person Lunch & Learns, six months of free shared space membership at The Urban Hub, opportunities to practice and pitch to investors and key partners, and other ongoing support.
But there is still much to do. Gang has a protype that was made by an engineering student and that she is able to produce at home. Considered a minimum viable product, it provides the benefits but does not have the “bells and whistles” that the final design will have. At that point, she will need a manufacturer; that is just one of the challenges that lie ahead.
“In addition to finalizing design,” she said, “I have a provisional patent and am in the process of filing the next two patents. It has been quite the process. And the cost. I didn’t think it would be this expensive. My Etsy business never had those obstacles.”
The business pitch contests have provided some funds, but launching a business that she hopes will become a known brand requires a substantial marketing budget once the product reaches that stage. Every aspect is costly. Some of her plans include business expos that will entail not only hefty registration fees but also a professional booth, a website with ecommerce, graphics and packaging, social media influencers, and marketing to a specific target audience.
As a recent college graduate, Gang’s funds are limited. The heated sleeve is gaining traction, but has a way to go. Gang believes that the initial positive feedback proves the potential is there, and that athletes are willing to pay for a product that will allow them to continue doing what they love.
“I plan to target the network of coaches and gyms to reach athletes. Social media will be a key aspect since I can target the wellness and gym communities. There are so many people who will benefit from it,” she said.
Her past successes with small business ownership give her the confidence to press on. In addition to her Etsy shops (she also sold masks during the pandemic and had a styling boutique), her proven flair for business goes back even to middle school where she sold digital art and was commissioned by people to draw.