Interview With Jimmie Harris
Describe your product or service:
“The Honu Cooling Pack was designed for a hotter reality, standing at the fore of a new wave of climate-adaptive equipment as a new active cooling pack designed specifically for outdoor adventure.
In contrast to passive cooling wearables — wicking fabrics, evaporative bandanas, and ice pack pockets — the Honu Cooling Pack is designed to actively remove heat from the wearer's body by circulating cool water through patented, thermally-conductive polymer tubing integrated throughout the pack. Honu leverages the body’s natural cooling biomechanics to reduce the experience of atmospheric temperatures by up to 20°F.”
Describe your company values and mission:
“Here at 19°N, we are a small group of scientists, engineers, designers, and outdoor enthusiasts driven to create, innovate, and recreate in Hawaii. We launched the Honu Active Cooling Pack so we could continue to enjoy the great outdoors in face of a changing climate.”
How are you funded? I.e. venture capital, angel investors, etc.
“Currently funded through a parent research company, Oceanit.”
How big is your team? Tell us a little about them (I.e. co-founders, freelancers, etc.)
“5! A mix of founders, designers, engineers, and marketing.”
Did you always want to start your own business? What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
“Starting 19°N was a little bit of a surprise. I was actually a part of the parent company Oceanit that does scientific research. 19°N was a product I was managing and trying to get off the ground. However, we started getting such great feedback it took on a life of its own, and now that's my focus.
Entrepreneurship is exciting to me because you're able to connect technology and human needs by creating something that is filling a gap in the world. The ability to help others, in this case by increasing access to the outdoors, is the best thing about entrepreneurship.”
How did you come up with your startup idea? How did you decide to actually act on the idea? What gave you confidence that you were on the right track?
“The technology behind the 19°N Honu pack is the result of 10 years of intense research and development in partnership with the US Navy. Built for naval shipyard welders working in dangerously hot conditions, our cooling technology was engineered to be maximally conductive and work in conjunction with the body’s physiological responses to temperature. The tech was originally packaged as a shirt with integrated tubing and an external cartridge, and it performed extremely well in lab testing, achieving twice the heat extraction of other wearable cooling products.
But the real proof came from the field — shipyard workers were blown away by the cooling capabilities of our system and excited about the relief it could bring to their challenging work conditions.
Once we saw how impactful our cooling technology could be, we were eager to adapt it for adventure and take it for a spin. In Hawaii, we’re already feeling the effects of climate change as rising temperatures make it harder to comfortably do the activities we love. A wearable cooling system could be a game-changer for the future of outdoor recreation.
From Kuliʻouʻou to Kaʻena Point, our team tested prototype packs in the hottest conditions we could find as we sought a balance between performance and practicality. We knew we weren’t the only ones feeling the heat — so, we set out to see who else we could help. Luckily, it isn’t hard to find avid adventurers and performance athletes here in the islands, and we conducted dozens of interviews as we made our way through the islands’ roster of hikers, runners, ironman competitors, and mountain bikers.”
How did you come up with your company name? Did you have other names you considered?
“The ‘19th parallel north’ is a circle of latitude that is 19 degrees north of the Earth's equatorial plane. It crosses Africa, Asia, the Indian Ocean, North America, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic Ocean, and it passes through the southern part of Hawaii. It was chosen to represent our brand location, as well as a play on Hawaii’s heat and the implied cool temperature of 19°.
We tossed around many other naming variations taking inspiration from our environment and Hawaii. We ended up using our favorite of these, "Honu," to name our flagship product.
Honu® — Meaning: Green Sea Turtle — also known as the green turtle, black (sea) turtle, or Pacific green turtle. Chosen to represent the protection and functionality provided by the pack, drawing similarities to the function of the sea turtles’ shell. Honu is a Hawaiian word and is a species endangered by climate change, intensive fishing, and human destruction of territory.”
What is the greatest challenge you faced in starting your business, and how did you overcome it?
“We're still a very new company; however, our biggest hurdle now is increasing awareness about our brand and product. We're creating a new product category of active cooling gear in an industry that often values tried and true methods. However, we're seeing a rapid change in our environment and believe that new types of gear are essential to continue enjoying the outdoors.
I don't think we've overcome this challenge yet. We're working on growing by pursuing crowdfunding, external partnerships, and exploring new markets.”
Who is your product or service made for? Who is your target market?
“On the leading edge of a new wave in climate-adapted equipment, the Honu Cooling Pack is a new breed of active cooling packs designed specifically for outdoor adventures — from mountain biking to hiking and anything that keeps us active and outside.”
What's your marketing strategy?
“We're currently pursuing a few different parallel paths. We've launched a Kickstarter campaign to gain some initial traction [and] are working with a couple [of] larger brands who are interested in the application and integration of our tech, and we're also working locally in Hawaii to pursue partnerships with local industrial facilities that could use our tech.”
How did you acquire your first 100 customers?
What's your favorite entrepreneurial book and podcast?
“‘The Lean Startup’ and ‘Freakonomics.’”
What is the biggest lesson you learned during your journey?
“So far, it's been that even if you have a product people love, it can still be really difficult to get the word out about a new thing.”
Who is your support system?
“We're lucky enough to have a close relationship with our parent company Oceanit who has a wealth of experience developing technology, running a business, and setting up solid logistics. In addition, we've all got an extensive network of friends, professors, and old colleagues who are in the product space that we draw upon and talk to often.”
How do you stay motivated?
“Right now, the experience people have when using our product is incredibly motivating. We've done a couple [of] ‘candid cameras’ where we go to local trails and just watch people's reactions, and nine times out of ten, they're like ‘Woah that's really cold, I needed this during my hike,’ and that helps us feel like we really have something. In addition, we continue to see the devastation climate change is causing and the need for new technology to adapt to a warmer future.”
Did you have to develop any habits that helped lead you to success? If so, what are they?
“As a new company, there's no shortage of tasks that need to get finished. Prioritization and ruthless cutting of unessential tasks has been critical to getting to where we are and maintaining sanity. ‘Essentialism’ by Greg McKeown is another great book I think everyone who ever feels busy (probably all of us) should read.”
What are you most proud of as an entrepreneur?
“Right now, I'm just excited to be where we're at — working with our users, producing a cool product, and learning a ton about making it real.”
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