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Freshmen’s backpacks make profit, help charity


POTSDAM — A pair of young entrepreneurs have launched a backpack business meant to both turn a profit and help others.

Daniel L. Briere and Evan A. Jennings are both freshman business students at Clarkson University. They have just launched Outland Manufacturing, an online shop that sells backpacks and donates a portion of the proceeds to a charity in Haiti.

Mr. Jennings has been interested in entrepreneurship ever since he was a child, playing Monopoly at his family’s Lowville dairy farm. He started when he was 13 years old, an online shop selling Rubik’s Cubes and similar puzzles, specially designed for the competitive community of puzzle speed-solvers.

The site has been successful, and Mr. Jennings was offered a full scholarship to Clarkson in exchange for a stake in the company.

Mr. Briere went to high school in St. Paul, Minn., and lives in Atlanta, Ga. He chose to attend Clarkson to follow in the footsteps of his father, David J., a 1984 Clarkson graduate.

The two both serve on the university’s Student Association. They met and became friends, eventually realizing they wanted to go into business together. “After getting to know each other a little bit better, I think we realized we’d just make really good business partners,” Mr. Briere said.

Both have ties to Haiti. Mr. Jennings has been on a missions trip to the impoverished island nation, and Mr. Briere knows people who work with Healing Haiti, a Minnesota-based charity.

“It wasn’t that we wanted to start a backpack company right off the bat. We wanted to create a social enterprise,” Mr. Jennings said.

Mr. Briere said they quickly realized there was a market for simple, durable backpacks. “All the students were wearing backpacks, but they were all about the same. They were overcomplicated, and falling apart from carrying heavy books around,” he said.

The two designed the packs and outsourced the manufacturing to China. The bags are sold online for $50 apiece, and for every sale the cost of producing another backpack is donated to Healing Haiti.

This varies based on changing production costs, but usually equal about 20 percent of the sale price.

After acquiring support from venture capitalists, the site opened for business last month and so far has sold about 30 backpacks.

The two were largely inspired by TOMS, a company that donates one pair of shoes or glasses to a child in a developing country for every pair it sells.

Mr. Briere handles design and marketing, while Mr. Jennings takes care of the financial side of the businesses.

Mr. Briere will soon transfer to Texas Christian University, but will continue to work with Mr. Jennings. He sees the move to Texas as another way to spread the word.

Both students said they hope the company will grow and continue to keep them occupied long after they graduate.

“I think it would be great if this Outland idea took off and went all the way. I’d love to do that full time,” Mr. Jennings said.

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