Inspired by 3-D printing, Beth Esponnette is putting a new spin on wearable technology. Her startup, unspun, aims to print clothing from the ground up. Her goal is to eliminate waste from the apparel manufacturing process.
A 28-year-old Stanford graduate, Esponnette got the idea for the Eugene-based company while working for a major outdoor clothing manufacturer. “Once I learned what we were doing to produce the product, I just wasn’t proud of the work anymore,” she says.
The concept took three years to flesh out, and Esponnette and her two team members are now busy working on a 3-D machine that will print individual items of clothing.
“If we don’t cut into it at all, and are just building up in an additive way, it’s not only better for the environment and reduces waste, it’s also better for the end product,” she says.
The unspun team has created a prototype but doesn’t have “the machine that will customize quite yet,” says Esponnette, who hopes to have a product ready by next summer.
Athletes are the initial target market. “Their sport takes their body into nonstandardized shape,” Esponnette says. “We think that is something that should be celebrated. Our tech will allow us to build products for each person.”
Selling investors and fellow entrepreneurs on unspun’s concept has been a challenge, says Esponnette, who participated in the Palo Alto Summer@Highland hardware incubator last May (a gig that came with $18,000 in funding). “It was a great experience,” she says. “But the hard part was they had never worked with a hardware company before. It’s a different world.”
Unspun’s technology is more complex than that of a typical software company, she adds. “We’ve gotten the most interest from investors with a clean-tech mind-set.”
So perhaps it’s no surprise that Esponnette’s aspirational model is another green disruptor. “We want to be the Tesla of the soft-goods industry,” she says.
How to approach startup financing:
• Begin with the end in mind. Do you want to build an enduring company you intend to stay with a long time? Do you want to grow at a very rapid pace and sell or eventually go public?
• Understand your startup capital options. Venture capital, angel investors, grant writers, family offices, friends and family members, various debt options — they all bring very different advantages and have different expectations of the investment.
• Invest your time to find the right investors. There is a lot of capital out there. Most of it is looking for very specific attributes and return profiles. For example, most VCs have to see a large gain on a liquidity event of the company. And many angels are semiretired looking to be active and helpful with a startup they can bring relevant experience to.
It’s best to ‘shoestring’ your new startup as long as you can, so you learn more about your own long-term vision and goals for the company. You’ll also want to develop proof points to new investors so you don’t take too much dilution of ownership before you’re ready.”
— John Bjornson, Point B Capital
Where they are now
Portland-based Garden Bar has more than doubled its size since we profiled the fast-casual chain in September 2015. The company opened three additional venues — a fourth, in the Lloyd District, will get up and running in December. Garden Bar also launched a catering program for luncheons and private events, says co-founder Ana Chaud.