Experiential education is a core component of the student experience at UNE. Students here are known for their incredible work and service inside and outside the classroom. In any program — whether health sciences, environmental or marine sciences, business, or liberal arts — students can participate in internships, job shadows, clinical work, field experiences, research, and more.
We’re thrilled to spotlight current Business Administration major, Al Thoms! From creating his first product prototype to bringing it to market for the Maine Ideas Challenge, continue reading to learn more about Al’s unique experience at UNE and how it inspired his future career goals.
Al grew up in Lake Forest, Ill., about 20 minutes north of Chicago. He’s a Business Administration major with a Philosophy minor. On campus, he works with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions as a student ambassador and is captain of UNE’s men’s lacrosse team. Al is also an avid surfer, which is what ultimately inspired an innovative business idea.
How Slip Sleeve Began
We asked Al how his business idea began:
“I’m a pretty avid surfer. I learned to surf when I came to UNE. Through my business classes, I have the opportunity to learn a lot of new skills — especially in the Makerspace — things like 3D printing and wood working skills. This led me to design my own product and bring it to market.”
“My business started out as just an idea that I had while I was surfing last December. I was surfing by myself out at Fortune’s Rock Beach, right down the street from campus. I was having a really hard time getting my sleeve rolled over the cuff of my glove. I ended up only being in the water for a half an hour because it was so cold. I got out and thought I would be able to order something on Amazon to help. But, there wasn’t anything there… so I decided I was going to make something that would help. That evening, I stayed up all night and brought a rough prototype to my professor. He encouraged me to refine it and enter it in the Maine Ideas Challenge.”
Al took home first place in Best Business Innovation for the 2022-23 Maine Ideas Challenge. The Maine Ideas Challenge is hosted every year and offers UNE students opportunities to develop innovative solutions to real-world problems.
Creating Slip Sleeve
What was first an idea sparked from a cold winter’s day out on the water eventually turned into Al’s final product. After working through 36 different prototypes to design his final product, Al refined his business strategy even more. Here’s what happened next:
“From there, I worked to refine my pitch with a couple professors and was able to secure a provisional patent after consulting with the University’s intellectual property rights team. Then, I met with a host of consultants (and even an attorney!) to help me with everything from packaging to marketing.”
The Final Product
Right now, you can find Slip Sleeve in two surf shops: Lake Effect Surf Shop in Milwaukee, Wis., and Black Point Surf Shop in Scarborough, Maine. You can also find it online or follow @slip.sleeve on Instagram. Al does everything from marketing to manufacturing, and even ships out orders from his off-campus house in Biddeford Pool!
When asked to reflect about his experience bringing his idea to market, Al said:
“I think personally the biggest thing I gained from this experience was the belief that I was actually capable of taking an idea, prototyping it out and bringing it to market.”
And what’s next for Slip Sleeve?
“This year I have sold around 60 units and while my company is still small with me as the only employee, I hope to keep growing in 2023.”
Best of luck to you, Al! We look forward to seeing what’s next for you and Slip Sleeve.
Learning by Doing at UNE
Interested in reading more stories like Al’s? Stay tuned for our upcoming student spotlight blog posts this month!
You may also want to watch our upcoming New Nor’easters virtual event. You’ll hear more about the opportunities UNE students to engage in high-quality research and scholarship; gain hands-on experiences in their intended field through internships, fieldwork, and clinicals; study abroad through our industry-leading global education program; and participate in a range of other learning experiences. Watch the replay here and see what’s coming up next. We hope to connect with you online or on campus soon!