Gryppers is one of five startups to win a collective $250,000 in grant funding from the nonprofit Durham-based NC IDEA Foundation. Since 2006, the foundation has awarded nearly $4.5 million to 109 startups around the state. The five companies were narrowed from 11 finalists, 26 semifinalists and 173 total applications for the Spring 2016 cycle.
In 2010, shortly after graduating from NC State where he played as running back on the football team, a five-hour plane ride set a new life path for Jamelle Eugene.
On the plane, Eugene realized that he hadn’t touched a football in months, since an injury had kept him from training for NFL tryouts. He started thinking of ways to better support his hands when he could return to the field. He weighed two options—gloves or tape.
It occurred to him that neither option was great on its own but that perhaps he could combine the two. He grabbed a complimentary airline napkin and sketched a rough design for a product that includes all the benefits of tape and gloves.
Ironically enough, Eugene later found it hard to focus on football with this product idea consuming his mind. So he texted DaJuan Morgan, his old college roommate and fellow Wolfpack team member, and shared the idea.
Morgan, an NFL player at the time who primarily used gloves, was immediately on board before Eugene even finished pitching the concept.
They put plans into action, co-founding Gryppers and developing the unique design that both enhances performance and minimizes the risk of injury.
With its breathable and lightweight qualities, Gryppers is a contrast to traditional athletic gloves that limit players from getting a natural feel for the object they’re gripping. The product also provides players’ fingers the protection and stability needed to prevent injuries.
The design, secured with two trademarks and patents issued by the USPTO, eventually caught the attention of Under Armour in late 2013. Gryppers was one of 12 companies invited to participate in Future Show, Under Armour's innovation incubator in Baltimore.
Today, Gryppers continues to gain momentum, now with an NC IDEA grant and a plan to begin selling at the end of the summer. The multi-sport product will be available for sale via the company's e-commerce platform.
It's also one of the seven companies enrolled in this year's Groundwork Labs
summer cohort. During an information session for the cost-free NC IDEA-funded accelerator and mentorship program, Eugene and Morgan met NC IDEA Foundation’s president and CEO Thom Ruhe
, also a judge in the Spring 2016 grant funding round.
Ruhe remembers that they were “kicking the tires” at the time. But participation in the Groundwork program has paid off. Ruhe says it’s rare for a current Groundwork company to win a grant—it has only happened once or twice before. But Gryppers will be able to execute on the initiatives that the grant will fund with help from mentors and advisors at Groundwork.
Eugene believes the funds will speed the company’s pace in solidifying and validating its foundation and, ultimately, get the product onto the hands of athletes.
“With a great team, our advisors, Groundwork Labs support and this NC IDEA grant, we believe there isn't much in the way of a successful start to our young company,” he adds.
Though these founders never reached the top of the professional football ladder like they may have planned as college roommates, Morgan and Eugene found a way to both represent and influence the game they love. They're showing a new vision for improving sport and safety. As support for Gryppers builds, clearly that's something people can get behind.
**Note: This article has been updated from its original form to reflect three changes: Clarifying Gryppers' existence outside of the glove category, adding that Morgan was an NFL player at the time of Eugene's pitch and removing an error stating Gryppers has a dual-sided grip.