Montana State University

MSU Blackstone LaunchPad advisees blast past startup fundraising goal by $285,000

July 23, 2015 -- MSU News Service

Matt and Michelle Hertel pose with the prototype of the desktop computer-driven mill that is the inspiration for their startup company Pocket NC. Pocket NC, an advisee of the Blackstone LaunchPad at Montana State University, successfully closed out a Kickstarter campaign, out raising their goal by more than $285,000. MSU Photo by Kelly Gorham.

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
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BOZEMAN – A Montana State University alumna and her husband are preparing for the next step with their startup company, Pocket NC, after they successfully closed out a Kickstarter campaign this week, out raising their goal by more than $285,000.

“It’s been a wild ride,” said Michelle Hertel, who graduated from MSU with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2010. “We’ve been in the design and prototype configuration stage for over four years. So we are very excited that we’re going to get into the production phase.”

After launching Pocket NC’s Kickstarter this month with a goal of raising $70,000, Michelle and Matt Hertel attracted 280 backers pledging more than $355,000 in support for their project. They blew past their fundraising goal in the first hour, Michelle said.

The Pocket NC product – a small, tabletop computer-driven mill with five-axis movement and capable of fabricating small items from aluminum and other soft materials – began as a project for Matt in the couple’s backyard shed at their home in the Seattle area. The Hertels, who were both raised in Montana, moved to Washington when Michelle got a job with Boeing after graduation. Matt, who also attended MSU and then earned an associate’s degree in machining from Helena College-UM, was working in the aerospace industry as a machinist.

That’s really why he got interested in building a small desktop computer numerically controlled (CNC) mill, Michelle said. A look at the market revealed that small mills intended for the hobbyist typically did not have the control and precision of larger, professional-grade mills. They were also priced beyond the reach of most individuals.

So Matt went to work on developing an affordable state-of-the-art tabletop mill made from better components than the typical hobbyist machine.

“He’s kind of the creative genius behind this project,” Michelle added.

Once they had a working prototype, the couple entered the World Maker Faire in New York. At that event, which drew some 100,000 people, Michelle said they received some very positive feedback on their project.

That kind of response gave them the confidence to quit their day jobs and move back to Montana, moving into Matt’s parent’s basement.

Near the top of their entrepreneurial to-do list was visit the Blackstone LaunchPad at MSU for support to help get their idea off the ground. The LaunchPad, a campus entrepreneurship program funded by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, offers advising services to startups and budding entrepreneurs. 

“We’d been back less than two months when we visited the LaunchPad,” Michelle said. “They really helped us a lot with our financial planning, and by connecting us with an adviser who could help verify that the price point that we wanted to sell at wasn’t crazy.”

The LaunchPad also advised the Hertels about their approach to a Kickstarter campaign. Audrey Wooding, deputy director of Blackstone LaunchPad at MSU, said the Hertels did their homework and took advantage of the expertise and networking that the MSU community and the LaunchPad have to offer.

“When you look at the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship and other people connected with MSU and Bozeman, there is a great community of entrepreneurs,” Wooding said. “These are people who are happy to share their knowledge and show their support for others that are on that (startup) journey as well.”

Given their Kickstarter success, the Hertels provide an excellent case study to other would-be entrepreneurs, Wooding added. 

Kickstarter is a funding platform that allows entrepreneurs, artists and other creative people to raise startup funds though an online, crowd-sourced campaign. If a project does not meet its goal, backers do not get charged for their pledge. To date, according to the Kickstarter website, over $1.5 billion has been pledged by more than 8 million people, funding more than 80,000 creative projects.

“We’ve seen other startups reach their Kickstarter goals, but (the Hertels) have been the most successful in terms of a Kickstarter campaign,” Wooding said. “They just blew it out of the water.”

That success came in pledges to donate anywhere from $3,500 to $5, and it sets up the next step – the production of a limited run (now sold out) of 100 machines. At a pledge of $3,500, backers have pre-ordered one of the Pocket NC machines. Donors at smaller amounts might be thanked with a Pocket NC hat, as well as on a list of backers on the businesses website. By going over their goal, the Hertels were able to max out their production run.

With suppliers lined up and materials stacked in their garage – they’ve moved out of the basement and into their own place – Michelle Hertel said they are feeling optimistic that they will meet their goal of shipping the last of the Pocket NC’s orders by March.

“It’s pretty exciting to have had this overwhelmingly positive response,” she said. “We’ve moved from the shed to the basement to the garage. And now we’re going to begin making our product.”

Contact: Michelle Hertel, michelle@pocketnc.com; or Audrey Wooding, (406) 994-4383, audrey@msulaunchpad.org.