Founder Friday: Luanne DiBernardo, Coolture

Exercising in the hot summer sun isn’t just difficult to do, it’s potentially dangerous to your body. Overheating and heat exhaustion are serious effects that athletes and the everyday person can face, and simply drinking more water doesn’t always fix the problem.

Coolture started as a result of a personal need, but has grown into a solution for endurance athletes. The cooling vest can be used before, during, and after strenuous exercise to help the body maintain a proper temperature and allow for muscle recovery.

Learn more about the Buffalo-based startup and its traction with organizations like US Soccer and USA Cycling in today’s Founder Friday with Luanne DiBernardo!

How did your startup, well, start up?

The story began when my brother, a DKNY fashion designer, was completely sidelined due to complications from a chronic condition that became exacerbated when he overheated. He returned to Buffalo believing he was coming home to die. He wore a heavy industrial cooling vest to help regulate his body temperature, which in turn helped to minimize his side effects every summer. One day, after watching him try to manage that heavy, ugly, wet vest, I placed a piece of paper and pen in front of him and said “you’re a designer – design our own cooling vest.” At that moment, and long before I knew it was happening, Coolture was unwittingly born.

What do you do? Your startup?

Coolture was founded to design, manufacture, and market high-end cooling wearables to heat-vulnerable markets. Our focus has shifted from chronic conditions to endurance sports, though our overall reach spans wellness and occupations.

When was the ‘aha’ moment for your startup when you realized this could actually work?

We’ve had a few. The first was in 2008, the year Van designed his first prototype; also the year that Nike created a pre-cool vest for swimmers in the Beijing Olympics. This validated our concept – that core body cooling can improve human performance. The second “aha” was upon realizing that our cooling idea was ahead of the curve and of little interest to “tech-oriented” investors in our backyard. Finally, and possibly our most important “aha,” was this summer when we decided to scrap what wasn’t working and essentially start over. From that point on, we started to establish meaningful partnerships based on a demanding, hungry market: endurance sports.

What has been the biggest accomplishment for your startup to-date?

This eighth year since founding the company is our most exciting year without a doubt. Getting in the door with US Soccer, USA Cycling, IMG Academy, and Universal Studios is the kind of traction I knew was possible.

Goals for the next year? Three years?

Our goals for the next year are to secure strong distribution channels while establishing brand awareness and expansion through strategic marketing efforts, including high profile ambassadors. Three years will find us with new IP and licensing partners. It will also find us partnered with an organization that will allow us to develop a fund for the purpose of providing cooling vests to those who cannot afford one.

Why Buffalo?

I love Buffalo. For me, there’s nowhere else I’d rather make my mark. That said, it can be difficult to be a hero in your own backyard; which, for me, has been a motivator in itself.

How do you do it? What drives you?

It’s a question I’ve been asked by family and friends for eight years, most of whom have questioned my degree of personal sacrifice in order to keep the company operating. Luckily (or not), I’m driven by passion, so this works for me. When investors ask me how much skin I have in the game, I tell them I lost my skin six years ago. What I do isn’t for everyone. But every single morning I wake up thrilled (after coffee) that I get to do what I do.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Instead of advice, I’d ask two questions: (1) What is your motivation for starting your own business?, and (2) How much are you willing to sacrifice?

If the answer to the second question isn’t “everything,” stay on the porch.