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Sunday, May 19, 2024

UC Davis Alumni named Entrepreneur of the Year

Most college students worry about finding a job after they graduate. But what few consider is not finding a job, but rather creating one for yourself. It’s called entrepreneurship. If you’re tired of angry bosses or careers that simply pay the bills but don’t fuel your passion, then maybe it’s time to consider being innovative.

Twenty-nine-year-old Jason Lucash, who graduated from UC Davis in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in managerial economics, was recently named “Entrepreneur of the Year” by Entrepreneur Magazine. Lucash’s company, OrigAudio, which began out of a garage and with a $10,000 loan from his parents, has now become a multi-million dollar company.

Neither Lucash nor his co-founder Mike Szyzmcak, who studied kinesiology and parks and recreational studies at Illinois State University, originally planned on becoming entrepreneurs.

“I thought I wanted to go into sports marketing … and then [while I was working] at JanSport I got this crazy idea [for OrigAudio]. I guess back in college I always thought I’d do marketing but I did always like the idea of working for myself,” Lucash said.

Lucash worked for the Sacramento Rivercats his sophomore year of college, followed by an internship with the Oakland Athletics his junior and senior year. After college he was hired by JanSport, yet eventually left his interest in sports to pursue a passion in music and create OrigAudio.

OrigAudio creates energy-reducing and eco-friendly music products while also contributing to philanthropic causes. For example, a style of speakers was inspired by a Chinese take-out box and designed with recyclable materials.

Lucash’s first product, Fold n’ Play compactable and recycled speakers, earned a spot on Time Magazine’s 50 Best Inventions of the Year. He considers his personal favorite product, however, to be the new Designears, the world’s first customizable speakers.

“[People] can use their own photos or designs [to] make headphones that look and feel like they want them … [representing] a true expression of their own personality … and I love that. Our headphones are [geared towards] how consumers want them to look, not how the manufacturer wants them to look,” Lucash said.

Daniel Kozaczuk, a third-year mechanical engineering major who loves listening to and playing music, considers Designears’ sustainability and look to be a great idea.

“It’s sad to see garbage on the street, on our beaches, and especially in the ocean. I would definitely buy headphones and speakers made from these recycled materials,” Kozaczuk said.

OrigAudio’s most popular product is the Rock-It 3.0, a small portable device that easily turns any object into a speaker. When Lucash and Szyzmcak appeared on ABC’s hit TV show “Shark Tank,” the product’s sales soared.

“That show really helped [boost its sales]. Whatever you stick [the Rock-It] to, it turns the whole thing into a speaker,” Lucash said. “It’s perfect for travel [and] perfect to throw into your backpack. We’ve sold over half a million units in the last two years.”

Lucash considers starting a business hard, yet worth the price.

“The hardest thing is, people might come up with ideas for products … but a lot of people never do anything about it,” Lucash said. “I think [you must] tak[e] the courage to use that idea [and make it happen]. It’s hard taking a gamble, but luckily for us it went really well, in our favor.”

Second-year managerial economics major Jon Underwood said he thought that Lucash’s success is due greatly to his strong leadership. Underwood, who studied entrepreneurship in Agricultural and Resource Economics 106: Econometrics, said he learned that leadership is key for thriving in business.

“Another important key is willingness to attempt new things,” Underwood said.

Lucash’s courage to have himself and co-founder Szyzmcak spend $30,000 of their own money in order to launch OrigAudio in 2009 may have been a risk, yet pushed them to become thriving entrepreneurs who dared to try something new.

Originally, OrigAudio began in Chicago, yet is now based in Costa Mesa, just off Redhill Avenue. Although Lucash steers his company from Orange County, his products are available for sale at locations in the U.S., Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Indonesia and Vietnam.

In addition to growing a successful business, Lucash also believes that keeping the workplace a fun environment is just as important.

“We work hard, but we play hard. We’re all in our 20’s; I’m the oldest,” Lucash said.

While working at JanSport, he learned the motto “Don’t take yourself seriously, but take your business very seriously.” Today, that’s a motto Lucash tells himself and his 15 employees.

“I think that’s something I live by. [By] taking yourself seriously, you’re never going to get anywhere. We’ve got a cool product; we should have fun and we do have fun,” Lucash said.

Lucash’s gamble to start OrigAudio has created his ideal job with his passion for music and no boss to answer to. Overall, he feels grateful that he took the risk instead of leaving himself to ponder the possibility for years to come.

“One great thing about this story is that Jason does something that he loves. Anybody that can have a job that they love is much better off,” Underwood said.

In the end, Lucash believes life is too short for anything but taking chances.

“In the beginning, a lot of people are going to tell you ‘no’ and [that] it’s hard to start a business, but as long as you have the drive and you really believe in your product, you should do it,” Lucash said. “Life’s too short to look back and [ask] ‘What if?’”

ALYSSA KUHLMAN can be reached at features@theaggie.org.



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