G. Brothers — a popular barbecue eatery in San Luis Obispo that serves up tasty treats such as chicken and kettle corn — is also a hangout for one group of Cal Poly students in particular. This group meets at the restaurant to talk about their startup, Lock and Load.
Once a week, the team sits down and talks through their ideas together. John Brockhaus, a business administration senior and a Lock and Load team member, said some of their best ideas come from their time spent at G. Brothers. He said once they have a few beers, the ideas start flowing and they draw on everything from to-go boxes to napkins.
The idea for Lock and Load was originated by mechanical engineering senior Justin Russo.
“I worked in construction and on a farm for a while; we had a need for something like this,” Russo said.
By “something like this,” Russo refers to a tool that would help people in various fields with easy lifting. He teamed up with two students in a mechanical engineering class in Fall 2012 to craft this convenience.
They developed Lock and Load, a removable liftgate for pickup trucks.
Russo said the team built one model for their design class and even though it worked, it could have been better. After the class ended, Russo continued to work on the project.
In Fall 2013, Russo added Brockhaus and Marty Affentranger, a mechanical engineering senior, to his team.
With the new members’ help, Lock and Load took fourth place at the San Diego LeanModel Start-up Competition in March.
After realizing how great of an idea they had, the team sought out potential customers and got feedback on the prototype they were building. They received good feedback, but their potential customers wanted the device to be easily removable and have a larger platform.
“Everything changed in the new model,” Russo said.
Now, the Lock and Load liftgate can hold up to 1,000 pounds and is made of steel. To make it easier to install on the back of a truck, the 150-pound liftgate has wheels. It will sell for $2,000 and has a lifetime warranty.
“We want a really close customer relationship,” Affentranger said, and with a lifetime warranty, the customer will be able to tell the team how their product wears, so appropriate changes can be made for future models.
Affentranger said another improvement was a steel flap that made the liftgate universal for all trucks. They also increased its size and weather-proofed the liftgate.
“It takes 10 seconds for the liftgate to go up, and less than 10 seconds to go down because it does not have as much weight on it,” Affentranger said.
“There is the need for what we are doing,” Russo said. “Construction companies and small business owners are some people who could benefit from it.”
According to the United States Department of Labor, the leading cause of injury in the workplace is from lifting heavy objects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2011 that more than 36 percent of injuries involving missed workdays were the result of shoulder and back injuries. The United States Department of Labor also recommends that one person should not lift more than 50 pounds in the workplace. If the load is heavier than 50 pounds, two people should help each other.
The Lock and Load liftgate will help avoid these injuries and allow its users to lift more than 50 pounds on their own.
“It’s been a huge learning experience,” Russo said.
After graduating this spring, Affentranger and Brockhaus plan to continue with the startup. Though he was offered multiple jobs, Affentranger turned them all down.
“This business depends on me,” Affentranger said.
Brockhaus is confident in his decision to move forward with the company.
“We have learned more going on our own path rather than doing (a) senior project,” he said.
Russo has always wanted to be self-employed, and after he graduates in Spring 2015, he plans to continue with Lock and Load.
“I don’t like being told what to do,” he said. “With this, it is more than a 9 to 5 — it is my baby.”
Brockhaus will be working on launching the team’s website, through which they hope to start making sales within six months.
Russo will be working with Tom Franklin, a judge from the LeanModel competition who will help the team obtain a patent for Lock and Load pro bono. A patent normally averages approximately $30,000.
In spring quarter, the Lock and Load team plans on applying for Innovation Quest.
If they win money from the competition, the team will put it toward developing more models of the liftgate and obtaining a workshop space to use somewhere off campus.
“It’s a roller coaster ride for sure,” Russo said. “For me, it’s not about the money, it is enjoying what it is, what I am doing.”