180s Traces Its Start to Students’ Vision Walking across campus at his university in Virginia on a blustery winter day, Ron Wilson began thinking about keeping his ears warm without looking like a dork. That’s how he first came up with the idea for what would later become his company’s signa- ture product, the ear warmer. NEL years later-in 1993—Wilson met Brian Le Gette at the Wharton School of Busi- ness in Pennsylvania. The pair were both engineers by then and had gone back to school to study business. They shared a business vision based on a simple strategy: to innovate ordinary products with redefined style and function. Instead of pursuing traditional careers open to Wharton School of Business gradu- ates, they made their dream a reality. Seven years after Wilson first came up with the ear warmer idea, he and Le Gette designed and developed prototypes of an expandable, collapsible , fleece-covered ear warmer that wraps around the back of the head. Their start-up expenses for the company that would later became known as 180s included charging $7,500 to credit cards. Wilson and Le Gette sold their first ear warmers on a university campus—for $20 each. Two classmates persuaded them to sell their product on a TV shopping network, and the rest, as they say, is history. Their television debut sold 5,000 ear warmers in 8.5 minutes on shopping network QVC, and three years later home shoppers had bought 600,000 ear warmers. Their product was a winner That wasn’t the only product the pair came up with. Their ideas in general were a hit-including their Bluetooth ear warmer, which was featured on The View TV show; their Sony MP3 player, seen in the newspaper USA Today, and Strobe LED Ear Warmers featured in Open Air Life magazine. A quick Internet search will reveal a lot of excite- ment for their products. Their business quickly grew into a booming product design and development company, a creator and marketer of innovative performance wear. The company’s headquarters, known as the 180s Performance Lab, includes an interactive storefront where consumers can test new products. The building’s architecture-floating con- ference rooms, a sailcloth roof, four huge windows to the sky-inspires the creative process taking place inside. World-class product design and development teams are constantly working on new ideas. And nearly every product they come up with has multiple design and utility patents that reflect the unique design solutions the com- pany creates. Both founders left the company to pursue other interests in the early 2000s. The company did not do well without them, and a new vision was necessary. In an odd twist, 180s became a Lynn Tilton Company, named for the award-winning female entrepreneur who left the investment banking world to make her mark on Main Street 180s has gone on to become a supplier to such traditionally masculine organizations as the NHL, NFL, and the U.S. Marine Corps, all while earning the Women Business Enterprise National Certification. The 180s earmuffs can be found throughout Canada and the United States, as well as many other countries. A couple of cold ears and some innovation helped bring an 1873 invention to the modern world and reward some visionaries financially. Thinking Critically

1. What characteristics made Ron Wilson and Brian Le Gette successful entrepreneurs?

2. How did their partnership and shared vision serve their business goals? think their departure from the company affected its growth? Why or

3. Do you why not?

4. Research Lynn Tilton online. What characteristics set her apart from many investors?
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