"I thought that participating in Inc.U was a really unique opportunity that not many people get to do. At its core, being able to talk about the business and get someone to say, ‘Yes, we want to give you money!’ was an invaluable skill." —Ben Cutler, Co-founder, CastPak
Where Are They Now? Q&A With CastPak Co-founder Ben Cutler
Since the Inc.U Competition officially launched in 2015, it has produced 10 winning teams and provided $120,000 in prize money.
Those 10 startups have since grown, shifted, and encountered new challenges and successes. This is the fourth in an article series which will explore where some of the winning teams are now, how the pandemic has impacted their businesses, and what the next big steps for their companies are.
Business name: CastPak
Business description: CastPak is a portable turnkey high-quality livestreaming solution.
Business location: State College, PA
Names and titles: Ben Cutler, co-founder in charge of customer solutions, Andrew Przyjemski, in charge of engineering
Q: What stage was your company at when you participated in the Inc.U Competition, and what stage is your company at now?
When we participated in Inc.U, we were really looking to develop our hardware and specifically the software capability. CastPak is a hardware backpack that has all the components you need to do high quality HD livestreaming from anywhere with either a cell or Wi-Fi connection. We needed to make the hardware more robust and build out the mobile app to allow users to easily connect to the CastPak hardware itself. In addition, in terms of our target market, we were focusing on high school sports at the time and exploring selling to videographers, but have since pivoted.
At this point, a year plus later, we have gotten through that, at the very least with the mobile application. We have a working mobile app that allows users to connect to the CastPak and start up a stream.
Q: How has your business model shifted, if at all, since winning the Inc.U Competition?
We started out by targeting the CastPak to videographers, thinking they would use it as an addition to other hardware and camera equipment. It would enable videographers to make money aside from just creating hardcopy videos by also offering livestreaming as an option.
After stepping away from the startup for a bit, I had a fortuitous internship that lead to a new opportunity. My boss worked in construction, and they have to move these huge pieces of material. When they are trying to move big and expensive equipment, they require an insurance agent to be present to ensure that the lift complies with whatever the insurance terms are, and that turns out to be really expensive. We’re talking about 10 or 15 thousand dollars to have someone on site for two hours. So, we came up with the idea to livestream the lift and augment the insurance agent being onsite by utilizing the CastPak.
We’re currently getting paired up with a company that does more software development and has the infrastructure to broadcast, share and communicate over live video, except they operate primarily through mobile phones. What they’re looking at is finding someone who can do the hardware solution, which is what CastPak provides. That’s how our business model is shifting, but we’re still in the very early stages of seeing if it’s going to succeed in this new direction.
Q: How did participating in the Inc.U Competition impact you and your company?
Personally, it was a great experience. I think it’s really cool to be able to tell people that I participated in a Shark Tank style pitch competition through Penn State, and it gave me good experience in being really succinct in selling my message and selling my product to a panel of judges and then having to answer their questions.
I thought that it was a really unique opportunity that not many people get to do. At its core, being able to talk about the business and get someone to say, “Yes, we want to give you money!” was an invaluable skill. As for the company, it set us in the direction of developing the mobile app and took us into the preliminary steps of doing the hardware as well.
Q: What is the next big step for your company?
Hopefully we’ll hear from the shipping company that they do want CastPak, and we’ll pair with this software company so the two of us will be able to go forward and make a product that’s going to be useful for the insurance agents, for the construction company and for the shipping company and provide some value to them.
Currently, we’re kind of in a holding pattern. After that we’re going to start looking for some type of investment either from Penn State or other contacts we got through Inc.U, Summer Founders program, and Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank, as well as bring on some more people to do more of the development and the translation between our hardware and this other company’s software.
Q: What advice do you have for future participants of the Inc.U Competition?
I think that the biggest piece of advice that I’d give is to know your product inside and out. A lot of people haven’t thought about every single part — they’re either focused on what their solution is or who their customer is, or how they are going to make the money, but you really need to understand all facets of the business, whether it’s what your supply chain looks like, what your customer service channels are, what your marketing looks like, how are you going to continue to acquire new customers — just really, really understanding what’s going on in your company and what you’re doing is incredibly valuable.
When you know what’s going on, you can say it in 10 words, 20 words, or two sentences, and it also helps you be a better entrepreneur and know how one decision is going to impact all the things you’re doing. That’s really what the judges are looking for — they’re looking for the people who know their business inside and out, have a direction, and are going to be able to execute on that.