Penn State Entrepreneurial “Pit Crew” Helps 812 Solutions Race Ahead
Entrepreneurship races through Nic Anzalone’s veins. A third-generation Penn State student who graduated in spring 2021 with a degree in Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIENT) from the Smeal College of Business, Anzalone launched his first company at the age of seven – making chocolate lollipops to sell door-to-door.
Years later, that drive would place him at the starting line of entrepreneurship and in business with his grandfather, Denny Gross. Now 69-years-old, Gross – a 1973 Penn State graduate from the Penn State College of Engineering with a degree in industrial engineering – started a small auto body and repair shop in 1977.
A racecar driver himself, Gross was very familiar with the back and neck injuries many drivers sustain in crashes.
In a crash, when there is a hard impact to the bottom of the frame, the driver is forced into the seat bottom. This high G-force impact can cause compression fractures of vertebrae, ruptured discs, broken neck, paralysis, and nerve damage.
To solve this problem, Gross and his business partner developed the Crash Pad – a safety seat insert designed to absorb energy from a crash and reduce the risk of spinal injuries among race car drivers – out of his autobody shop. The Crash Pad uses a special material to slow the high-speed downward motion and provide the space for the driver’s body to slow, reducing the G-forces to a level below the threshold of injury.
They began selling the Crash Pads at regional Pennsylvania racetracks, where the business enjoyed modest popularity. However, when Gross’s business partner stepped away from the business in March 2020, the door opened for Anzalone to begin working alongside his grandfather. 812 Solutions was officially born, named in reference to Anzalone’s high school football number and his grandfather’s racing car number.
Anzalone began his college career at the Penn State York campus and eventually transferred to University Park, the home of Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank where he was able to grow 812 Solutions.
“Penn State provided a lot of resources I could tap into to help understand how to take the company forward,” said Anzalone. “The professors helped me understand the business structure, while the experience of pitching the idea across different competitions gave me the confidence regarding how we can improve the company and build its customer base.”
Anzalone also points to Dr. Jamey Darnell, clinical assistant professor of entrepreneurship in Management and Organization in Smeal, who he said inspired him during his first entrepreneurship class and provided advice regarding the development of the company’s e-commerce website.
“Dr. Darnell’s class inspired me to step outside my comfort zone and challenge myself,” Anzalone said. “I had no experience building a website before, but the course walked me through various topics in design. The website I built in his class is the website we use today to inform customers and process orders.”
Integral to Anzalone and 812’s progression was a two-course sequence he took as part of his CIENT major, where student entrepreneurs run their own ventures in a course format over two semesters. As part of the courses, Anzalone received a $1,500 grant from the Farrell Center to help defer startup costs. Dr. Jeanette Miller, director of the CIENT major and the associate director of the Farrell Center for Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Smeal College of Business, taught the two courses and was a mentor for Anzalone as he continued developing his business.
“It is so inspiring to witness the creativity of the students as they put their ideas into reality,” Dr. Miller said. “Nic really embraced the learning opportunity and accessed the tremendous resources across Penn State’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. He also has a firm grasp on how to manage the business as he continues to develop his career.”
812 Solutions was recently awarded $2,000 during the spring 2021 virtual Invent Penn State Venture & IP Conference’s Student Startup Showcase and placed third in the Mont Alto LaunchBox LION Tank™ Competition.
The young company is now generating revenue through relationships with 12 dealers across various states, getting the Crash Pad into racecars and powering the business’s expansion into other markets.