Success Story

OriginLabs helps CarToCamp kickstart prototyping process

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa – After spending a summer car-camping across the United States, Penn State Berks alumnus Nathan Bonslaver saw market potential for a comfortable and convenient car sleeping solution. He launched CarToCamp, a line of car sleeping platforms, while still working towards his mechanical engineering degree at Penn State.

“Basically, it’s like a bed frame that fits in the back of your car and then two people can comfortably sleep in the car, and you can store your gear underneath,” says Bonslaver.

As a student, Bonslaver worked with Berks LaunchBox powered by Penn State to build his startup. He continued on to win $15,000 through Invent Penn State’s Inc.U Competition, a pitch competition where Penn State student startups compete for a prize pool of $30,000.

Following his Inc.U success, Bonslaver was chosen as one of six startup founders to participate in Invent Penn State’s Summer Founders Program, which provides a $15,000 grant to Penn State student startups to work full-time on their businesses over the summer in State College.

Applications for the 2024 Summer Founders Program open Feb. 5, 2024.

Since completing the program, Bonslaver has seen great success selling his car sleeping platforms, mass manufacturing them for customers across 38 states.

In early 2023, Bonslaver was looking to create a new version of his product that would significantly reduce both the time and number of steps it takes to manufacture each unit.

Bonslaver turned to OriginLabs, Invent Penn State’s prototyping and fabrication space in downtown State College, to start testing.

He began the project by discussing his concept design with Ryan Mandell, director of OriginLabs, and Jose Nunez, shop manager, both of whom he says were extremely eager to turn his vision into reality.

“Ideas on paper don’t always translate smoothly to real life, not at first,” Nunez said. “Prototyping is not only an essential part of working out the design flaws in your product, but also to iterate on your design and to improve on it, so you can respond to customer feedback.”

Over the course of a month, the OriginLabs team provided Bonslaver with continuous guidance and suggested changes throughout the process, working to make his prototype a success.

“OriginLabs creates a safe place where you can bring ideas, and they will help you improve it until it’s at a point that it’s ready to be manufactured elsewhere,” says Bonslaver.

With the guidance of OriginLabs technicians, Bonslaver was able to make use of machines like the CNC router, a tool used to cut the plywood that composes CarToCamp’s sleeping platforms.

After a month of prototyping with OriginLabs, Bonslaver was able to move his design from the prototyping phase to mass manufacturing, with the newly designed platform now available on his website.

Bonslaver says that when manufacturing first starts, it is easy to pick the wrong route, and end up wasting copious amounts of time, resources, and money, which is why the resources at OriginLabs are so important for entrepreneurs looking to prototype.

“Because we were able to run through the entire process of manufacturing from steps A to Z, we were able to explore different methods of manufacturing that would affect the manufacturing time of the product,” says Bonslaver.

Bonslaver says that one key takeaway he learned from OriginLabs was how much time it takes to run the machines that are required for the manufacturing process. Now, when CarToCamp goes to manufacturers, he will know how long each process will take, ensuring that he does not get over-charged for hourly machines.

Bonslaver says he looks forward to potentially working with some of the latest machines brought into OriginLabs, including laser cutters and bend machines, to prototype a new line of CarToCamp products.

“We’re going to start working with sheet metals, and we’re super excited about exploring new materials and manufacturing processes at OriginLabs a year after our initial product release,” says Bonslaver.

About OriginLabs

Located at the Eric J. Barron Innovation Hub in downtown State College, OriginLabs provides access to world-class prototyping facilities to students and faculty from across campus, as well as members of the public from State College and beyond. The OriginLabs facilities enhance the suite of resources available to researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs in the region in the form of sophisticated equipment, free workshops, and expert advice and technical guidance.

This project was financed in part by a grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Community & Economic Development.