Mississippi State wildlife and fisheries major Charles Parker explains how his product, Rod Sox, works at the Investing in Innovation event held at Mississippi State University’s Hunter Henry Center on Friday. The event featured workshops and competitions for entrepreneurs. Photo by: Mary Alice Weeks/Dispatch Staff
April 28, 2014 9:31:35 AM
STARKVILLE -- Charles Parker acquired Rod Sox, a manufacturer of fishing rod protectors, last May. The first thing he did was tell owners of stores who supplied the product that they would not be receiving any new stock for six months.
"We gave the stores a heads up and told them we're changing the product," Parker said. "We set the table for what was going to happen."
He communicated with the existing manufacturer in China that the previous owner worked with to make the rod cover.
"You draw pictures and get down your specs as much as you can," Parker said. "You ask for a prototype and then when you get it back, you see where your specs were wrong and you tweak prototype after prototype until you get one that you like."
In the first quarter of 2014, he sold 850 units of the new and improved spinner and casting rod covers. Their use prevents tangle with other fishing lines for anglers who carry several poles, he said.
"Whether you're serious about it or you just want to be outdoors, the last thing you want to do is be frustrated with your equipment," Parker said.
A 23-year-old Mississippi State University senior majoring in wildlife and fisheries, he is active with Mississippi State University's Office of Entrepreneurship and Energy Transfer, which program coordinator Eric Hill said is a two-fold entity tasked first with taking researchers' intellectual property generated at the university and commercializing it.
Secondly, it works to create start-up companies out of the technology or through students who develop products in house, Hill said.
"There is a marriage between the two on opportunities that take technology developed at the university and then place them within student or faculty led start-up companies," Hill said.
The department hosted its annual Accelerating Progress: Investing in Innovation Day on Friday. Students participated in workshops and start-up plan competitions as well as prototype innovation challenges. A showcase had several booths from student start-up companies, including Parker's, as well as corporate engagement partners.
Parker said the department has fostered his work and encouraged him to grow on his foundation.
"We have a great entrepreneurship spirit here," Parker said. "I wouldn't be nearly as far along as I am without what we have here."
Parker, whose father started and owns a lure manufacturing business, said there's a picture of him at 13 months old walking down a fishing dock with a tackle box and a fishing rod. Since he was 7, he had traveled with his father to fishing expos. A couple of years ago, he saw a product similar to Rod Sox and one of those before one of his father's customers started Rod Sox in 2010 out of his garage. Parker had the opportunity last year to buy it and "jumped on it." He said he made several tweaks, including increasing the density of the mesh to make the sleeve protectors more durable and compatible. Now, the company produces covers for both spinner and casting rods and a prototype for crappie rods is in the works.
"We don't want to go to the market and then tweak the product," he said. "We want to do all our research on the front end so we have the perfect product coming out.'
Parker said he hopes to develop protectors for many other types of rods before moving on to fishing accessories in the long term.
"I think we can do other types of fishing accessories using this as a brand and growing into other types of products," Parker said. "I don't want to be a one-trick pony. I'm trying to build a brand for an array of products."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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