CORVALLIS, Ore. – What started as a fun way to get students excited about snowboarding has become a full-time business for Oregon State University alumni Ryan Kirkpatrick and Dan Genco.
On Thursday (May 21), the fourth annual Cricket Campus Rail Jam Tour – also known as “Snow in the Quad” – takes place at OSU’s Memorial Union Quad beginning at 2 p.m. Despite temperatures predicted to be in the 70s, snowboarders and skiers will demonstrate their aerial acrobatics during the competition, which is free and open to the public.
The OSU grads’ company, Galvanic Design, takes the Snow in the Quad show to campuses around the West Coast, and attracts top-notch snowboarders from around the Pacific Northwest.
Back in 2006, when Kirkpatrick was part of the Memorial Union Program Council, he was looking for fun activities to do in the quad. Meanwhile, OSU student and Red Bull representative Dan Genco was also looking for ways to have fun, student-centered activities that would stick in everyone’s mind. “My job with the MUPC was to make fun stuff happen,” Kirkpatrick said.
The two students started throwing out ideas for events, ranging from setting up a giant slip-n-slide to staging a massive paper airplane competition. But the idea that stuck was a pretty unusual one.
They decided to find a way to transport tons of actual snow from Mount Hood to the quad, and stage a snowboarding competition on campus. They figured their biggest challenge would be getting the snow and setting up but, as it turns out, the first “Snow in the Quad” event was a big learning lesson for another reason: risk management.
“That part was the biggest obstacle to overcome,” Kirkpatrick said.
Working with the university to bring a real snowboarding event to life meant learning about insurance, safety and the finer points of negotiating through the red tape. Finally, they were able to satisfy all the requirements and move forward with the first Snow in the Quad event.
Because they didn’t have a lot of financial support, Kirkpatrick and Genco learned how to call in favors, and launched a grassroots promotional campaign that ranged from chalk writing on campus sidewalks to chaining snowboards up around OSU.
“Timberline (Lodge) was a huge help,” Kirkpatrick said, providing experts to help build the rails for the competition, while Red Bull provided help with the scaffolding.
They moved 15 yards of snow – about 10 tons worth – into the Quad on the day of the event. Snowboarders came from around the area to participate, and despite a rainy afternoon, the production drew a big crowd.
The event was so successful that in 2007, they brought it back to OSU. By this time, both men had graduated, and the event had drawn a lot of outside interest, and some financial backing. Galvanic Design was born out of the demand for a Snow in the Quad event at other universities, and with their educational backgrounds (Genco has a degree in marketing, Kirkpatrick has a general science degree with a minor in entrepreneurship), they decided that creating their own business was the best way to meet that demand.
This summer, the success of the Snow in the Quad events had reached a point where both men decided to invest their money and time into a full-fledged, full-time business. Joined by snowboarding expert Taylor Murray, they now have 14 employees, half of whom are OSU students or graduates, and they are visiting eleven campuses on the tour, culminating in a competition at Pioneer Courthouse Square on May 30.
“We are using our experience here to create a company that is about pushing the envelope of marketing to college campuses and creating innovative brand activations for our clients,” Kirkpatrick said. “We are currently in the process of expanding to other things outside of snowsports.”
Kirkpatrick, a third-generation OSU alumnus, said that while his background is in science, it was his time working with the OSU Austin Entrepreneurship Program that gave him the skills, and the courage, to launch his own business. He credits part of their success to a determination to live modestly and invest every penny back into the business.
“We make a dollar out of 15 cents,” he said.
And the most exciting part is that they have created a business that’s like no other.
“We’re writing the book,” he said. “Nobody is teaching us how to do this.”
To learn more about the campus rail jam tour, see www.campusrailjamtour.com