As she was sitting in a meeting with her boss in 2007, Emily Beach, a field hockey coach, was trying to come up with ideas for a youth clinic for three-, four-, and five-year-olds. “I was thinking, ‘This is going to be a disaster’—I was picturing them not comprehending the idea or just not being strong enough to use their left hand,” she says, referring to the field hockey practice of controlling the stick with one’s left hand.
Beach, now 29, jotted an idea down on paper for a stick with a rotating grip, which would force the players to rely on their left hand. That night, she went home and spent four hours chiseling away at an old, wooden hockey stick to make the prototype for what is now called the Dribble Dr. Today, in addition to her full-time job as field hockey coach for the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., Beach runs her side business from her parents’ garage outside of Washington, D.C. She’s sold around 200 sticks, for $40 to $60 each, since launching her business in 2009. But the path to side-gig success wasn’t easy.
At first, she kept the idea a secret, because she was worried someone would steal it. She worked with an intellectual property attorney to file for a patent, which took about two years to get approved. In July 2009, armed with her patent, she went public with her idea. “I took it with me wherever I want and handed out business cards,” she says. At the time, she was a field hockey coach at Georgetown University. She started showing the stick off at conferences and recruiting events and launched her website, which allows customers to place orders.
The start-up costs were also daunting. When she first began looking for an intellectual property lawyer, she was told it would cost between $10,000 and $15,000 to file a patent. With the help of one of her players’ fathers, she was able to negotiate that price down to closer to $8,000. She also searched for a good deal on wooden sticks; most field hockey sticks are now made with composite materials instead of wood. With the help of the Internet, she found a Pakistani manufacturer who could supply them to her.
Today, Beach makes all of the sticks herself with a belt sander. Now that most of her start-up costs are out of the way, she can focus on boosting her sales. Her side business has also brought other, unexpected benefits: Beach thinks the fact that she holds a patent helped her land her current job, which is at a technology-focused school.
That overlap between her day job and her business also helps her find the time to do both. She attends many coaching conventions for work, and she can bring a Dribble Dr. along to share with other coaches. “It makes networking easier,” she says.
Even before that meeting when Beach first thought of her idea, she had wondered about a better way to teach proper field hockey technique. “It’s not just youth, but anyone with a field hockey stick is inclined to dribble with their right hand. You’re supposed to control the stick with your left hand,” she says. As a result, many players struggle to learn the proper dribbling technique. Coaches have long improvised methods, such as sliding an empty toilet paper roll down the stick to prevent players with controlling it with their right hand, but until Beach created the Dribble Dr, there wasn’t a more durable training device on the market.
Beach dreams of taking her business much bigger—selling so many sticks that a bigger manufacturer takes over production, or selling her patent to an athletic gear company for a big payday. For now, though, she's happy slowly growing her Dribble Dr. business on the side.