Not many first-year students at the UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences can claim a U.S. patent to their credit, but School of Engineering student Harrison Goldberg can.
Growing up in Newton, Massachusetts, Harrison like many other engineering students loved to tinker with things, play with Legos, and just build stuff. "My parents always said that I was great at building Lego sets," Harrison says, "but that I never ended up playing with them much. I eventually found out about the Lego Mindstorm kits, which were new at the time, and even though they had their limitations, those were a lot of fun to work on."
He has since turned this childhood interest in design into a reality, having designed and built a device that helps break in lacrosse sticks quickly, for which he holds the patent.
A born entrepreneur
Harrison Harry to his friends is a born entrepreneur. His first foray into business came when his parents were planning to lug an old sofa out to the street and put a "free" sign on it. Harry had recently heard about a new website called "Ebay" and he got permission to try to sell the sofa online. Sure enough, within a couple of days someone was coming to pay for and pick up the sofa, and a new entrepreneur was on his way.
Along the way, at South Newton High School, Harry joined the lacrosse and ski teams, both sports giving him the inspiration to delve deeper into design.
"It all really started in 8th grade when I had an issue with a lacrosse stick not breaking in properly," Harry explains. "I was in my basement and tried modifying an existing product. I thought that the flaws in it were pretty obvious, so I set about trying to improve it. I made one and gave it to my brother and he used it, and it worked pretty well."
It eventually dawned on Harry that he might have a salable product, so he thought a little bit more about how to improve the device and what materials would be both cost effective and durable. "One day, while sitting in French class, it occurred to me to use ¾" PVC pipe it's way cheaper, very durable, and it worked fine. I made one and gave one to my best friend, who happened to be the best lacrosse player the school had seen in years and people started asking him about it. My production costs were $2.70 per unit and I was selling each one for $10. After I sold a dozen, I brought a drill press!"
Ultimately, Harry sold about 50 or so, including some on E-bay. Now he's looking into licensing the product to someone else. Why? So he can concentrate on his next project: building skis.
Building a better ski in Vermont
Harry's love of skiing stems from a childhood spent traveling to Vermont on weekends with his family. So when it came time to consider where to go to college, the University of Vermont was naturally on his list. "I had thought seriously of Lehigh's integrated business in engineering program," he says, "but when my father read Dean Grasso's article on holistic engineering and suggested that I read it, I knew UVM was the right place for me."
Being located in Vermont is also helpful as Harry works on his own skis. When asked about designing and building skis, Harry becomes very animated and talks in depth about press frames, inflation molds, and the layering of materials needed to make skis. "I like to build prototypes and see what happens," he says. "I also do all the graphics for my skis this is really big for me because I wanted a ski that when it was done, people seeing it wouldn't know if it was store-bought or from my woodshop."
Now that Harry has had time to settle in at UVM, he's finished one pair of skis and is building two more. "No one has ever skied on them except for me," Harry says with a grin, "but that will change next year."
Very few first-year students own a patent, and very few have career goals already laid out for themselves. Harry has both. "The image I have in my head is that by the time I'm a junior, I'll have clients for custom skies. By the time I graduate, I hope to support myself by producing skis full time and launching a serious ski company." Anyone interested in Vermont's economic development opportunities will be glad to know that Harry is planning to stay here. "Vermont is obviously a very fertile place for the ski industry, "he says, "and I like Burlington a lot,".
The importance of holistic engineering
Harry is also very enthusiastic about the College's move toward holistic innovation and design and the opportunity for engineering, math and computer science students to pursue a more liberal education in addition to the rigorous math and science required in all three disciplines.
"I want to think very broadly about things," Harry says thoughtfully. "I've come to believe that shopping at Home Depot which I do a lot is a sad metaphor for life: the people in plumbing, for example, only know about plumbing. There's a tendency toward a narrow focus and I'd really like to avoid that. For me personally, taking some studio arts courses would be very helpful. I'm learning the AutoCad and Solidworks programs, but want to be able to draw on the back of a napkin if I need to. And I also want to design cool graphics for my skis."
When asked what inspires him, Harry is very clear: "I know this will take a lot of work and a lot of luck, but I want to start a company that's like Burton. For me, standing in a ski line and seeing people wearing and using your stuff would be great." And although he'd be thrilled to save the world, he'll settle for just having an impact on it. "But that's the future," he says cheerfully. "For right now, I'm really happy at CEMS and I can't imagine being anywhere else."
Want to get in touch with Harrison? You can e-mail him at Harrison.Goldberg@uvm.edu