Written by Jerred Ziegler.
Cincinnati, Ohio’s Oros is taking technology used to keep astronauts warm in space and applying it to cold-weather gear here on Earth. The company creates apparel using aerogel, a NASA spacesuit technology that is one of the best insulation materials on the planet. Oros’ apparel allows customers to stay warm without multiple layers beneath their outerwear, and the company’s products are virtually weightless.
“The first company that tried to use aerogel in apparel was Champion. They created coats for an Everest climb that were 12 times thinner than the regular jackets,” said Michael Markesbery, CEO of Oros. “Everyone thought the climbers were going to freeze, but they actually all came down and complained of overheating.”
Markesbery was an undergraduate at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio at the time, and says he recognized the problem with Champion’s aerogel approach. It would not let the Everest climbers’ body heat escape, so as they were climbing and exerting energy, their natural heat was being trapped inside their coats.
Oros’ technology eliminates this problem. The company uses thermal imaging to space the aerogel in its coats. This allows people’s bodies to breathe normally and efficiently. Markesbery secured intellectual property around the application of technology to make aerogel effective in apparel, but then faced a new challenge – he didn’t know how to make a jacket, let alone how to create a business.
“I reached out to my best friend Massimillano Squire, who was a student at one of the top business colleges in the world in Milan, Italy,” said Markesbery. “He agreed to be Oros’ co-founder and contacted an apparel designer who had been featured in Vogue. Before we knew it, we were undergraduates with our first product, the Lukla jacket by Oros.”
Markesbery and Squire launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund Oros and sell the coat, starting with a goal of $100,000. Within the first 72 hours the company had raised $125,000, ending the campaign with a total of $320,000 raised.
In order to build a sustainable company, Markesbery and Squire knew they couldn’t just depend on Kickstarter. They turned to Cincinnati’s The Brandery, an Ohio Third Frontier partner in southwest Ohio, to accelerate the growth of their new company.
“The Brandery’s accelerator program was a really unique experience,” said Markesbery. “They connected us with a branding agency called InterBrand, which helped us evolve our brand by defining the unique ways we could present ourselves to consumers. We had no idea going into the program that brand identity could affect a person’s buying habits so much.”
Oros is currently working to expand its product line from coats to additional cold weather apparel including gloves, beanies and snow pants.
According to Markesbery, the biggest benefit to starting Oros in Cincinnati is the easy access to multi-billion dollar companies, many of which are open to helping local startups succeed. Numerous executives from these companies offer entrepreneurs mentorship and feedback on new ideas.
“Right up the street from our office is a company that did $4.5 billion in sales last year, and whose leadership is willing to sit down with new entrepreneurs to offer advice,” said Markesbery. “Everyone in the city knows that if a new company grows, Cincinnati grows. I’ve never been in such a close knit community.”