Syracuse, NY--Ryan Dickerson’s business started with a backache.
Now Dickerson and his creation, a 6-foot long pillow that turns the average twin bed found in any dorm room into a couch, are in the pages of Inc. magazine in a feature story about companies started by college students.
Dickerson, 20, is a junior majoring in economics at Syracuse University. His company, Rylaxing Inc. makes and sells a firm pillow that turns the average college dorm bed into a couch.
College dorm rooms are notoriously cramped and cluttered. In his freshman year at SU, Dickerson bought body pillows and pillows with arms, fluffing and rearranging them behind his back, to make sitting on his bed more comfortable.
“Ultimately I ended up with lower back problems because I wasn’t getting adequate lumbar support,” said Dickerson.
The summer between his freshman and sophomore years in college, Dickerson worked with his mother, Erica Dickerson an interior designer in Beaufort, SC, using a computer design program to find ways to make the dorm room more habitable.
He designed a bolster that fits lengthwise on a twin bed. The bolster is made of firm foam, has lumbar support, and is wide enough so that a person can sit as comfortably on a bed as they do on a couch. The product named Rylaxer also stands up for easy storage when the person wants to use the bed for sleeping.
The fall of his sophomore year Dickerson took the pillow to his room at Sigma Phi Epsilon.
Visitors mistook the Rylaxers for couches.
“I never meant it to be an actual business. I designed the first one to serve my own needs,” he said. “When I found out there were other people interested in the concept, I took it to the business school.”
When he showed up at Falcone Center for Entrepreneurship at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management at the beginning of this school year, Executive Director Tom Kruczek said he was impressed with Dickerson right away.
A lot of students want to talk about ideas; Dickerson was different, he said. Dickerson already had a product and a business plan.
“Every time I asked him a question about something he had the answer,” Kruczek said. “He’d been thinking about this for a long time.”
The center offered Dickerson a spot in The Couri Hatchery, a business incubator that provides students with office space and hooks them up with local resources to bring their business ideas to reality.
Dickerson got legal advice from SU’s law clinic. The Newhouse School’s student advertising agency drew up a marketing plan, created advertising and is shooting Youtube commercials. Students in industrial design helped with the prototype.
The Hatchery found a Camden company that upholsters for the university to make the prototypes.
Before Christmas break Inc. magazine called Kruczek looking for students to feature in a story about college start up businesses. Kruczek suggested the magazine feature Dickerson.
An Inc. reporter interviewed Dickerson several times over the phone. Three weeks ago a magazine photographer shot pictures of him lounging on the Rylaxer in one of the fraternity’s rooms.
Monday, the story featuring several college students and their business ideas appeared online and in the magazine. Readers are asked to vote for their favorite student business at http://www.inc.com/college/2010/index.html
Dickerson has received three orders for his pillows since the article came out. Over all he’s sold about a dozen in the last couple of months.
A 6 foot-long Rylaxer sells for $150 to $185. The 3-foot version that fits at the head of a bed sells for $75 to $110. Prices vary by fabric choice.
Although the product looks good, feels good on the back and stores easily, it has a drawback. “You do have to make your bed every day,” to use it, Dickerson said with a laugh.
For now the Camden company is filling Rylaxing’s initial orders. Dickerson is looking for larger foam or furniture manufacturers to expand capacity as orders increase.
“I’m having a really hard time being taken seriously because we’re not bringing in $50,000 to $100,000 in an order, which we would love to be able to do, but currently it’s not possible. Without money there, they’re not willing to talk to you,” he said.
The Camden company has asked Dickerson not to identify them.
His parents loaned him the $4,000 to start the company, and he hasn’t made a profit, yet. That’s not the point, Dickerson said.
“I’ve been having a lot of fun doing this. It’s not about the money any more,” Dickerson said. “It’s something I figured out I wanted to do.”
“It all started because I wanted to make myself a little more comfortable,” he said.