EU students appease the 'Fish Gods' with new business

Category:  News
Friday, October 11th, 2019 at 11:50 AM
EU students appease the 'Fish Gods' with new business by Keith Hepler
Tyler Waltenbaugh and Hunter Klobucar took home $5,000 for their new business: Fish Gods. They are both currently Edinboro students. | Contributed Photo

EU students' business idea wins them $5,000 at TechCelerator

Creating a company was not the plan for Tyler Waltenbaugh and Hunter Klobucar, at least not when they were still up to their necks in college classes. But that’s what wound up happening, and the Edinboro students rolled with it.

“Coming into college, I didn’t really plan on being an entrepreneur,” said Klobucar.

“I was pursuing environmental geography. [But] I knew I always wanted to own my own business. My goal was to make an impact on people and the environment.”

Waltenbaugh echoed these thoughts.

“I didn’t attend Edinboro with the mindset of becoming an entrepreneur, however, as soon as I came to college and left my small town, I started to meet people and I started to be associated with people who had an entrepreneur mindset,” he said. “Creating stuff out of nothing. I never really had a direct path…I always had an open mind to be creative.”

Their company, Fish Gods, started because of a shared joy of fishing, but getting there took many steps. They first started the fly fishing club on campus and were able to get it chartered through a non-profit named Trout Unlimited. The organization focuses on conservation of trout, along with the habitat they reside in.

Eventually, both students were then chosen to participate in the Brook Trout Odyssey. The Trout Unlimited project aimed to gain understanding about brook trout from fishermen, fellow conservationists and the scientifically minded community.

“So, we were in the most remote places in Pa. Out in the middle of the mountains. And every watershed we entered...every stream there was garbage and plastic polluting our water,” said Klobucar. “We started writing things down and that’s kind of where the idea of Fish Gods came about.”

This idea to start a company led first to the creation of a collapsible bag, which serves as a tool for outdoorsmen to pick up, contain and recycle trash. The overall goal of the company is to push environmentally friendly practices through fishing enthusiasts. This will include product, such as the bag, and more in the future.

The name, Fish Gods, bears the history of the activity and the shared mission both founders wish to implement. Klobucar offered explanation.

“A lot of anglers use it (the phrase). Pray to the fish gods for a good catch or fortune. We thought it was a perfect fit for our company…If you clean up your waters, protect your waters, they’ll bless you with a good catch...We want to be the voice that unifies companies in society to make a change. We want to be that company that makes a change.”

Waltenbaugh drilled down into the history of the phrase, adding: “The name comes from ancient ties to Hawaiian culture. It has been adapted down through generations.”

This theme repeats itself throughout their musings. It’s important to recognize that the concept of generations serves as both their foundation and catalyst in their decision-making.

“Family has a lot to do with it. I grew up taking weekend trips up to Erie with my father since I was probably 12 years old. We would come...on the weekends in the fall and in the winter. We would steelhead fish on the tributaries of Erie, like Elk Creek,” Waltenbaugh said. “Both of our parents are super supportive, they’re there for us [and] they offer us guidance.”

The inspiration and resulting business strategy is already paying dividends for the pair. They recently received $5,000 through the Ben Franklin TechCelerator @Erie. This was the culmination of a 10-week business camp. They’ve also been working with Edinboro’s Center for Branding and Strategic Communication, otherwise known as the Beehive, on branding, social media and more.

Waltenbaugh stressed the unique nature of their endeavor.

“Fish Gods isn’t one singular idea. I would say it’s the product of a year-and-a-half of really back and forth, throwing ideas at each other, and meeting new customers. An evolutionary process for sure…lead times to getting things done is our biggest problem.”

In addition, Klobucar was quick to point out that, “There’s never problems, only solutions.”

Both students are looking to the horizon post-graduation and are beginning to prepare for what that step in their journey will bring. Waltenbaugh will receive his bachelor’s degree in strategic communication and a minor in public relations as well as journalism. He will graduate in the spring of 2020.

Klobucar will follow him at the conclusion of the fall semester that same year with an environmental geology major, along with two minors: geographic information systems and environmental sciences.

They are involved with Kickstarter and plan to launch a funding campaign on the website within the next six months. They are open to any possibilities that may present themselves but want to respect the place that gave them their start.

“We would like to stay in the area that helped us start our business. The city of Erie has been more than generous on our start-up,” Waltenbaugh said.

The best word to describe what both entrepreneurs embody is synthesis. This philosophy shows in their vision, mission and the steps they are taking to reach their goals.

Tags: news, business

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