Originally from Laguna Hills, CA, Thomas Oltorik, founder of Outdoor Innovative Solutions, first moved to Florida at the age of 8. From the beginning, Oltorik was an active kid and loved the outdoors, but it wasn't until the family moved to DeLand, near his grandfather, that he developed a strong passion for fishing and began to hone his angling skills. In middle school and high school Oltorik competed in tournaments against other anglers and was highly successful. When it came time to select a college, the decision was straight forward.
"Daytona State College was the perfect fit for me," he said. "They had online programs that allowed me to still be on the road competing and to stay involved in the sport fishing industry. I was also able to start a collegiate competitive bass fishing team, something that had never been done before at Daytona State. We won a couple major titles and, as a result, caught the attention of several large companies in the fishing industry. This is what really propelled my career forward. Between fishing in tournaments and traveling for marketing and sales work, the connections I made were priceless. I got to work alongside the Costa Del Mar Sunglasses (Daytona) and JL Marine (Tampa) Marketing and Sales teams building an understanding of the industry."
While pursuing his Bachelor's Degree at Daytona State College, Oltorik was fishing in a tournament on Lake Wylie, South Carolina, when one of the fishing poles he was using started losing its rod guides. One guide failed, and within a short time more guides gave out. According to Oltorik, direct sunlight, moisture, and exposure to the outdoor elements compromise the integrity of rod guides over time. Losing rod guides adversely affects the performance of the rod and its cast-ability. Oltorik was forced to use a sub-par rod to finish the tournament. This experience is what set the stage for Oltorik's innovative solution.
After graduating from Daytona State College, he enrolled in the MBA Program at Stetson University. While pursuing his graduate degree at Stetson, Oltorik continued to develop his solution, now called the Quick Clip Rod Guide. He utilized a 3D printer at the Stetson Innovation Lab and, with the help of a Stetson Engineer, Tony Ganus, he brought his idea to life. The engineer that assisted Oltorik with the prototype reached out to Professor Lou Paris, who directs the HatterTrep Entrepreneurship Team, and encouraged Mr. Paris to get Oltorik to join the team. It didn't take much convincing and before long, Oltorik was presenting his idea at collegiate pitch competitions across the country. In April of 2018, Oltorik, along with several other student entrepreneurs from local Florida universities, was accepted to present at the 2018 Cairns Foundation Innovation Challenge.
"The format was different than most competitions," he said. "Instead of the standard three to five minutes to present, we were given up to twenty minutes. We were also presenting our ideas to a room full of investors, not just students and faculty. It was a huge opportunity and I had so much support from the HatterTrep program. Professor Paris and Dr. Jackson helped me prepare into the night and morning prior to the event."
The hard work and preparation paid off and Oltorik's invention finally got the recognition it deserved. He won the challenge, along with $10,000 in seed funding and a free space for a year at the Volusia County Business Incubator. After the Innovation Challenge, Oltorik was approached by a group of investors interested in providing additional capital for a minority stake in the business. After some negotiations, a deal was reached between Oltorik and four investors that gave him $100,000 in exchange for giving up 20% ownership of the company. Oltorik has since moved into the incubator and is busy completing the steps to bring his product to market, including working through the patent process, which he shared is much more involved than he ever anticipated. He expects to start production in the coming months.
"I'm about to pull the trigger on the molds," he said. "I have bids from three different local manufacturers. Once the molds are made, we'll be able to start manufacturing. In terms of distribution channels, I'd like to start with local bait and tackle shops and, of course, through our website. Eventually we'll sell through Amazon and other online retailers. The goal is to have our products in stores like Bass Pro Shops. We'll advertise through social media, ad targeting, YouTube videos and by partnering with people like John Cox, a FLW World Champion from Debary and a mentor of mine, to work with us on industry solutions."
According to Oltorik, the fishing industry is full of a mix of anglers, but most are particular about their equipment. There are 75 million anglers registered in the U.S. with a fishing license, and many more un-licensed anglers. Oltorik's goal is to capture 25% of that market but admits that it will be a challenge. "We're introducing a completely new product," he said. "It will take some education, but eventually we want it to become a tackle box necessity."
Oltorik offers up some great advice for young entrepreneurs thinking about pursuing an idea or a new business. "Thoughts of fear and doubt will be there for sure," he said. "However, at the end of the day, when you think about what you're doing, you have to believe in it so much that everyone else will as well. My younger brother, who's an Eagle Scout, once told me, 'Picture what you're talking about as if it's a million-dollar idea and act like it is.' That's exactly what I do. I think that's great advice for everyone."