Nick Unis started collecting sneakers in high school. He loved the various styles and colors. It was an expensive hobby, so he started buying and selling his shoes. He and his brother soon had a well-rounded sneaker inventory of over 300 pairs. They made money for a while but as the number of competing sellers increased it became harder to make a profit.
To keep his business viable, Nick decided to begin customizing shoes. He learned to switch out materials, add logos, and do pretty much anything the customer wanted to make a pair of shoes unique.
There were legal issues with altering name brands, so Nick decided to start his own line of shoes. He knew the technology existed. Why not print a custom pair of shoes?
An early prototype
His first step was creating a 3D model. Next, he had to figure out how to get a 3D printer to make the shoes. Having someone else print the shoes would be expensive and time consuming and he couldn’t find anyone who was able to print the entire shoe, only parts. Not one to back away from a challenge, Nick decided to build his own printer.
After two years of tweaking shoe designs, adjusting printer parameters, and learning about e-commerce, Nick established UnisBrands. Now he’s taking his business to the next level with the help of Penn State University’s Happy Valley LaunchBox FastTrack Accelerator Program, which provides mentorship and resources needed to help get business ideas off the ground.
Nick usually meets twice a week with the director and with other entrepreneurs in the accelerator program. They discuss any business problems they are experiencing and get potential solutions from the group. Nick’s team takes advantage of a free workspace at the LaunchBox facility in State College. There are other benefits, like an intellectual property clinic and the opportunity to get help from PSU’s engineering students.
Unis has started working with the Bernard M. Gordon Learning Factory, a hands-on facility for engineering students that offers modern design, prototyping, and manufacturing facilities. The future engineers are helping to perfect printing parameters and assembly techniques for the customized shoes.
UnisBrands has already launched their first product, customizable slide sandals. Nick is living his dream by printing the future of footwear.
Nick Unis started collecting sneakers in high school. He even had a customizing business, coloring them, changing fabric, adding logos…doing anything the customer wanted to make a pair of shoes unique.
Nick Unis: Each pair with every person is going to be different.
When he got to college, Nick decided to launch his own line of shoes. He knew the technology existed, so why not print them?
Nick Unis: We can actually make it anywhere from rubber feel to a soft fabric feel depending on the printing speeds and the printing parameters.
Nick faced a lot of challenges designing printer software, learning e-commerce, and promoting his shoes, but he never gave up.
Nick Unis: You have to have that mindset going in otherwise you’re just going to get beat up and you’re not going to want to continue.
Today he’s taking his business to the next level with help from Happy Valley LaunchBox’s FastTrack Accelerator Program.
Nick Unis: Prior to Launch Box we weren’t getting too much publicity. And now that we’re in this space we’re getting connected with more and more people. And that’s kind of giving us different avenues to even attract people to come and help with what we’re doing and to get people interested.
Nick now has a full team helping him to realize his dream.
Nick Unis: I guess it makes me feel good that they can see the potential or at least see somewhat of what I see in it.
Happy Valley LaunchBox programs are open to everyone (community members, Penn State students, faculty, and staff). Founded in February of 2016, LaunchBox is a signature program of Invent Penn State, a Commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation, and student career success. Happy Valley LaunchBox is one of 17 innovation hubs across the Commonwealth. Their mission is to be the “hub” that connects local entrepreneurs to the support, resources, and facilities they need to build a sustainable and scalable business with a viable plan for growth.
By centralizing no-cost services, they help entrepreneurs to avoid the common mistakes startups often face and enable them to focus their time on de-risking and growing their businesses.