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North Central College alumnus credits entrepreneurship program in creation of new outdoor equipment company

Jacob Imm

Jul 28, 2020

Recent graduate Tyler Jones '20 looks to make an immediate impact in the outdoor equipment market with SLAB Outdoors

Entrepreneurs see a need in the world and find a way to fill it. North Central College alumnus Tyler Jones ’20 took that idea to heart. He turned a frustrating moment on vacation into a business idea to launch his career. North Central is where he learned how to make it happen.

Jones is the founder and CEO of SLAB Outdoors, a company that, according to Jones, makes equipment for “fishing, hunting, camping, grilling, tailgating and various other outdoor activities.” The company developed during Jones’ time in the Entrepreneurial Strategy & Innovation course with Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship Chetan Chawla. The business was born, though, before Jones ever took the class—during a fishing trip on the Chippewa River in Wisconsin.

“After witnessing my father struggle to fillet (fish) on unfavorable surfaces … I quickly realized that there wasn’t a foldable, durable cutting surface that could be utilized (during) outdoor activities,” Jones said.

He and his father did research into what it would take to make the product marketable. They found a gap in what stores were offering and related it back to what they needed on the river. Jones needed help taking the next step to sell his idea.

A photo of the SLAB Outdoors mobile cutting board.

The SLAB Outdoors cutting board.

Finding success secrets in an entrepreneurship education

When he returned to North Central that fall, Jones saw the perfect opportunity to grow his business in Chawla’s class.

“This course completely changed my life and taught me the customer validation process,” Jones said.  “Professor Chawla required each student to talk to strangers in our respective industries … Consistent feedback quickly shaped my project and helped (me) focus on building a high-quality product and memorable brand.”

Jones searched for established brands in outdoor equipment and did interviews with staff at chain stores that sell them. He knew he needed a name for his company that customers could relate to. He wanted it simple and strong, but meaningful, too.

“The outdoors has always meant a lot to my family and some of our (favorite) memories are in the Great North Woods, so that has been a great source of inspiration,“ Jones said. “I named the venture SLAB Outdoors. SLAB stands for the fillet of a fish, but also signifies a durable surface. This double meaning stood out to people and seemed to fit the initial product concept.”

Chawla has been Jones’ primary advisor as he has worked on SLAB. In addition to taking Chawla’s class, Jones met with him weekly to talk about the new company and how to keep it moving forward. The two of them are working together even now.

“Professor Chawla has been an incredible mentor throughout my time at North Central College,” said Jones. “He was supportive during tough times, assisted with manufacturing obstacles, recommended connections, and helped me greatly improve my efficiency as an individual. In addition, Professor Chawla and I have completed two case studies with an organization to be named in January when the pieces are published.”

The hard work Jones put in has paid off in both immediate results and hope for the future.

"As (far as) sales, we've had an exciting few months and ship orders pretty consistently," he said. "We are currently reaching out to independent outdoor shops and online retailers. As of now, we have reached agreements with gear.com and chimneytrail.com."

Tyler Jones' brother Ryan models a SLAB Outdoors hat.

Tyler Jones' brother Ryan models a SLAB Outdoors hat.

Learning the ropes from business classes

Besides Chawla, Jones got a lot more help from North Central’s community of business experts. The relationships he made as a student kept getting stronger and won’t stop now that he’s an alumnus.

“Although I had an idea and experienced individuals around me, North Central College’s entrepreneurship program walked me through the startup process,” Jones explained. “For every question, there has been a highly intelligent professor that helps me find a solution. Even after graduation, I’ve stayed in touch with faculty.

“Smaller class sizes (at North Central) allow students to form relationships with professors that last a lifetime and I felt cared for at the institution. The team in the business department have incredible experience and the connections I made outside of the college were almost always due to a professor’s connection.”

Learn more about SLAB Outdoors at slaboutdoors.com or reach out to the founder directly at tylerj@slaboutdoors.com.

The SLAB Outdoors logo.