U student startup, "Aura Optics," create interchangeable lens ski goggles.

Aura Optics

A pair of undergraduates has a plan to take the ski-goggle industry by (snow) storm. They created a low-cost, high-style goggle with interchangeable parts and a great fit. Watch for them at a ski shop near you.

It didn’t take Schaeffer Warnock long to fall in love with Utah’s ski country. The first time he hit the slopes at Alta as a 14-year-old, he knew being outdoors during the winter would be a part of his future.

His passion grew in high school, when he and buddy Jake Nelson made the rounds at Snowbird, Brighton and several Park City resorts. In the classroom at Skyline High School, the teenagers had their first brush with entrepreneurship through designing a clothing line as part of a graphic-design class — an endeavor they launched as their first startup, pushing hoodies and hats through a company website.

That experience set the stage for the two to become college entrepreneurs at the U, where this year the two are seniors — Warnock in business, Nelson in design. While many of their peers are beginning the job hunt for post-graduation life, Warnock and Nelson have traveled further down the road of entrepreneurial success with the launch of their own company, Aura Optics, which creates customized goggles that are changing the landscape of the ski-wear industry.

The students’ product is based on a simple concept. Avid skiers and snowboarders end up spending several hundred dollars on several pairs of ski goggles, with lenses designed to help navigate the weather conditions of the day.

What if, Warnock and Nelson wondered, they could design a customizable goggle with interchangeable lenses at a more affordable price point of $100 to $200?

With help from the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute at the U, Warnock and Nelson worked to develop a prototype for their idea. They launched a fundraising campaign at Kickstarter.com to help finance production, raising about $30,000 over the course of summer 2014. That money, coupled with grant funding from the Entrepreneur Club, assisted in moving production forward.

“During our time working at ski/snowboard shops, we noticed a huge price break in goggles. Either customers shelled out and bought a high-end pair of goggles, or they paid much less but sacrificed performance. When customers paid top dollar for high-end equipment, they found themselves limited in color options or were unable to find exactly what they wanted. There had to be a better choice,” Warnock said.

“As our individual collection of goggles continued to grow, we became increasingly frustrated with even top-of-the-line equipment,” he added. “Jake and I found ourselves taking two or three pairs of goggles for each ski day because we knew they would fog. We decided if we had this much trouble, others had to be having the same problem.”

In winter 2014-15, Warnock and Nelson officially started production of their goggles, which tout a variety of characteristics that make them unique to the marketplace. The goggles are designed to bring skiers and riders clarity while riding down the mountain, and also while traveling back up.

Response to their product has been overwhelmingly positive, with Warnock and Nelson moving on to the next phase of marketing their company and exploring its evolution.

“We are, first and foremost, a company created by those who ride, for those who ride,” Warnock said. “Our motto is that we strive for perfection. We’re only getting started, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.”

“We love the look of our goggles and everything about them,” Nelson added. “We’re glad we are bringing something new to an industry that we are passionate about.”

More at auraoptics.com.


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