Monday, February 27, 2023

Canada is a dream destination for skiers and snowboarders, so it makes sense University of Iowa sophomore Jon Barns is visiting up north in March.

Barns, an exercise science and enterprise leadership major, will attend the Stu Clark Venture Championships from March 9-11 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where he will pitch his business ARBLU. ARBLU’s first product is a telescoping ski pole that snowboarders extend when they need to maintain momentum in flat areas. When it isn’t needed, the pole retracts to be stored on a forearm or thigh.

Since he was 6-years-old, Barns would accompany his father to Colorado or Montana where the family would ski and snowboard. Barns and his father favored snowboarding and that’s where they discovered a need.

“There are snowboarders who use their friends’ ski poles, or they ask the rental area to take a pole with them just for the flat areas,” Barns said. “I came to the realization in the winter of 2021 when I was with my dad at Winter Park, that someone needs to invent an extending ski pole that you can quickly take out when you need it on these flat areas.”

Barns lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and graduated from Mount Vernon High school, where he wrestled and participated in track and field. His real passion is on the slopes.

“I saw my dad snowboarding and I wanted to do that, too,” Barns said. “It was a continuous thing my dad loves and it rubbed off on me.”

Barns intended to major in biochemistry when he first enrolled at the University of Iowa. After taking an Entrepreneurship and Innovation class, Barns whet his appetite in the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center. He entered pitch competitions and attended the Okoboji Entrepreneurial Institute. Barns participated in University Pitch Madness in Chicago in July and served as a judge for Startup Games in October. He completed the 2022 Startup Incubator Summer Track and intends to do it again in 2023.

Jay Cooper, director of the Iowa JPEC undergraduate startup incubator, will accompany Barns to the Stu Clark Venture Championships. It will be the first trip into Canada for Barns, who once made it as far as the Boundary Waters.

“When I saw the competition was Canada, I knew I had to try to get this because they have a bunch of ski resorts up there,” Barns said. “Hopefully I can connect with them on that level.”

Barns is currently in conversation with industrial designers who will build his product. He is also in a fund-raising phase, which is a reason he enters pitch competitions.

“In addition to money I can hopefully win, there are 50 judges with their own businesses in Canada,” Barns said. “Establishing a good first impression and gaining connections with them would be beneficial. I will still have those connections even if I don’t win money. That is more important to me than the money— establishing connections has proven to be super beneficial.”

Barns understands that his niche audience is not an enormous amount of people. But his specific snowboarding demographic still spans to nearly 20 million in Europe, Australia, and yes, Canada.

“Breaching the market from a United States standpoint is my first objective,” Barns said. “Once I get a good reputation, then I will go overseas and try to get on with those markets.”

The fact Barns knows the demographic he is targeting makes his business objective less of a mountain to climb.

Preferably, that mountain caters to snowboarders.