Love School of Business student balances school and startup venture 

Henry Collins ’20, co-founder of Rugged Road Outdoors, developed new method for manufacturing coolers.

By Erin Manchuso ’19

Armed with an innovative product concept and entrepreneurial spirit, finance major Henry Collins co-founded Rugged Road Outdoors in October of 2016 during his first year at Elon University. The venture specializes in outdoor performance gear, and sells branded apparel to support its research and development process.

After two years of research and development, Rugged Road Outdoors is raising capital to launch its initial manufacturing run of the ‘Venture Cooler,’ which will be the lightest performance cooler on the market.

The Martha and Spencer Love School of Business recently caught up with Collins to learn more about his venture.

How did you first grow interested in entrepreneurship?

It has run in my family. My dad and both my grandfathers are entrepreneurs, so I guess I caught the startup bug from them.

What inspired the concept behind Rugged Road Outdoors?

My business partner and I came up with the cooler when we were hanging out in high school. We wanted a product that was lighter and cheaper with competitive performance to the new coolers on the market. The brand came after the fact to fund cooler R&D and a way to build up an audience.

What is its mission and vision for the future?

Our mission is to provide high-quality outdoor products at an affordable price. Our vision for the future is to continue to innovate and create new products that better the expensive competitors still on the market.

Once armed with product concepts, how did you go about the research and development phase of your performance products?

I spent countless hours sourcing manufacturing. A lot of our product development was based on matching market competition and then trimming off what we thought they added as excess. So, the functionality and performance of the products was the same we just took off a couple of the extras our competitors’ products came with.

What has been the greatest challenge you encountered when starting your own business and what did you learn from that experience?

The greatest challenge has been market penetration. It is a very saturated market. We have been doing our best to try to brand ourselves differently. Another big challenge is not getting stuck behind the roadblocks. A lot of challenges have come our way, and the most useful thing I have learned is to climb over the walls and keep working. The most challenging event I have had to deal with was learning about international trade and customs law. Our first order of products did come from abroad even though we are shifting to a U.S. manufacturer. Not a lot of people in the international shipping industry take a college sophomore seriously.

What has been the key to your business’ success up to this point?

Dividing and conquering. My business partner and I split up the work evenly and trust each other to do their part. That has been key to our success.

Have you found any of your classes to be helpful in running Rugged Road Outdoors and if so, which classes?

Yes. I thought that the classes have been helpful in my startup. Especially my most recent principles of marketing class and my current entrepreneurial finance class.

Do you have any advice for young people hoping to start their own business?

Find a mentor. Finding someone who has experience in business and has good business savvy is extremely helpful. Even if it is just a parent, build an advisory board to help you make smart decisions. It is easy to make the wrong choices when you are starting out.

What is next for Rugged Road Outdoors?

We are still working on getting our Kickstarter funded. We have all new products in for winter time. Other than that, we want to keep innovating and working to make Rugged Road Outdoors a success.