A CEO at 20: High Point University sophomore hopes to make it big with new cell-phone accessory | Education

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HIGH POINT A little over a year ago, Caitie Gehlhausen enrolled at High Point University so she could study business and maybe one day run her own company.

Now just a college sophomore, the 20-year-old Gehlhausen has gotten a jump start on her dream.

A night out with a friend led Gehlhausen to come up with a new product that combines two popular cell-phone accessories. A patent on this new device is pending. And she’s the founder and CEO of a new company that already has received more than 35,000 orders.

The last year, she said in a recent interview, “has been crazy — crazy in a good way.”

A native of Indianapolis, Gehlhausen entered HPU in the fall of 2017 and picked two majors, finance and entrepreneurship. She figured that this pairing would help her start her own business after she graduated.

Right after the winter break of her freshman year, Gehlhausen and a friend decided to go out for the evening. Her friend had received a new phone grip for Christmas that she really liked, so she swapped out the card holder that had been on the back of her cell phone.

(Here’s a brief word about the two basic accessories that stick to the back of a mobile phone. One is a card holder, good for storing an ID or two and a bank card. That’s the go-choice for people who wear pants without pockets or don’t want to carry a handbag. The other is a telescoping socket that makes the phone easier to hold when texting and taking selfies. The most popular brand of grip is the PopSockets. The grips come in multiple colors and can be customized with logos and designs.)

The night out was fun, but Gehlhausen said her friend lost her student ID — which is expensive to replace — and her other cards.

Gehlhausen knew of others who have tried without success to glue a phone grip to the back of a card holder. (The glue never holds, she said.) There had to be something out there that combined the two, right?

A Google search turned up nothing. That was surprising, Gehlhausen said. “I’ve had other ideas, and then I go do a Google search and it’s everywhere.”

So she called her father, president of an Indianapolis company that makes fire safety and environmental products. He put her in touch with his patent attorney, who found no evidence of a combination card holder-phone grip.

Gehlhausen sketched out her concept — a card holder with a slot that would hold a phone grip. The pocket would hold up to three cards. The slot would lock a phone grip into place but allow it to be easily changed out. The device would stick to the back of a cell phone. She dubbed it the Socket Lock-It.

She sought help from a couple of business school professors: Kathryn Elliott, who directs HPU’s entrepreneurship center, and Troy Knauss, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship. They connected her with a Greensboro engineering firm and helped guide her through the process of making and selling a new product.

“Everyone here has been super supportive,” Gehlhausen said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better place to pursue it.”

From those first sketches, the process has snowballed.

Gehlhausen found an injection molding company in Indiana, about 40 minutes from her house, to make the Socket Lock-It. She had to learn how to take orders, build a website (it’s socketlockit.com), come up with a marketing plan, pitch her product, read and write contracts, figure out pricing, incorporate her business and apply for a patent. Over the summer, she conducted product testing by handing out prototypes.

“I’ve literally done it all,” Gehlhausen said.

Her first big sale came with an assist from her mom, who recently retired from a company that provides chocolate bars, cookie dough and gift wrap for school fundraisers. At a company meeting in Miami in July, Gehlhausen got four minutes to pitch the Socket Lock-It to a group of sales reps. She left with 30,000 orders.

Since then, mom-and-pop brick-and-mortar stores and a top-500 seller on Amazon.com, the popular online retailer, have ordered her product. High Point University recently bought 400 to give away to prospective students and their parents during a campus visit. She called the early response to her product encouraging.

Gehlhausen already is looking for ways to expand her business. She’s considering different styles and colors — the first-gen Socket Lock-Its come in a basic black matte finish — and she wants to come up with other phone products to keep up with changing tastes and styles.

She calls her company The Haus. It’s a play on her last name. It’s also a metaphor.

The Socket Lock-It, she said, “could be one small room in a bigger house. I’d like for this to be a long-lasting business.”

Contact John Newsom at (336) 373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.

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