CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Local 12 first met Michael Markesbery and Rithvik Venna in 2016 when they were a startup at The Brandery in Over-the-Rhine and had just launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund their business.
Now, they’ve got their own space with a ping pong table on Reading Road in Cincinnati and business has taken off.
Markesbery said, “In the last two years, we’ve gone from two guys in their parents' garage to an amazing team of 12 where the company is growing by 200 percent every single year.”
The co-founders, both outdoor enthusiasts, met as sophomores at Miami University studying pre-med. Then their tracks took a seismic shift.
Having to wear bulky coats while climbing together in the Swiss Alps and a paper Markesbery wrote, which earned him a NASA Astronaut Scholarship, set off the invention light bulb.
Markesbery said, “So we took 10 grand from the scholarship and started working with aerogel manufacturers.”
In its original form, aerogel is hard and translucent, made up mostly of air. It’s the lowest thermal conductive solid on the planet. It’s also used in space suits and the space shuttle and survives negative 4,550 degrees Fahrenheit, but it wasn’t being used in clothing.
Venna said that’s because, “It’s brittle, fragile and super expensive. Long story short, two years later, lots of money spent just being nerds, we managed to figure that out.”
They developed a product they call Solarcore. It’s the first ever flexible, non-shedding aerogel in the world. Three patents later, and working on a fourth, they’ve cornered the rights to how it’s made and put into clothing.
The first product they ever created was the Orion Parka. Now they have 13 styles for sale. Each is insulated with Solarcore. It’s been tested not just in the freezing mountain air, but in a garage using an intern and a shot of liquid nitrogen. Even while being blasted, the temperature inside the coat is a very warm 89 degrees.
The founders say their apparel is not only warmer than traditional gear, but it’s more streamlined.
“Oros is ancient Greek for mountain. It’s symbolic of the sacrifice that you have to give to achieve anything,” said Venna.
Anything is possible for these friends turned business partners. Markesbery is only 26 and Venna is 25. The two were just honored by Forbes Magazine as two of the top minds in the magazine's 30 under 30 ranking. Plus, they've raised $7 million in venture capital.