For more than 25 years, Brian specialized in launching breakthrough products in the medical device industry. Holding CEO and other executive roles, he led the commercialization of seven ‘world’s first’ products, generating global media coverage and Best New Product awards from Fortune, Popular Science, Forbes, and WSJ.
Brian's family tree is filled with both successful inventors and weekend tinkerers. He has always shared their curiosity for finding solutions to unsolved market needs. In March of 2015, this ingrained trait led him down a completely unexpected path, not toward a new medical device, but to discovering the wonderful world of outdoor hockey.
When did you first discover outdoor hockey?
While I played some pick-up on ponds as a kid in the Midwest, I didn’t grow up on rinks, indoor or outdoor. So, when my wife and I moved to Massachusetts, I was surprised to learn about the religion that is backyard hockey. It was fascinating to me.
Once our four kids started to get a little older, their friends invited us to some backyard rink parties, and then we really understood. To be clear, my entire family stinks at skating, but that doesn’t matter. We enjoyed being on the ice – just horsing around, playing hockey or broomball – and having s’mores and a drink by the firepit.
How did the idea for YardRink come about?
After a few of these backyard skating gatherings, I began studying the world of outdoor rinks. I gained serious respect for both the DIY backyard rink crowd and the few ‘rink kit’ companies out there making good products to help people enjoy the winter outdoors. But I started to envision something better - a backyard rink designed to allow more realistic hockey play, without requiring expert skills or hefty budgets. At the heart of this vision was the idea to get the tarp away from the rink’s playing surface and to design walls that could be filled and frozen.
I wanted to create a rink that was simple to put together, looked awesome and pulled families off their screens to get outside and enjoy some winter fun. I envisioned making backyard ice rinks as common as swing sets and basketball hoops (well, at least in cold climate places).
Who is Stephen Kurtin, and what role has he played in the YardRink journey?
He’s played an enormous role! Stephen is a friend and colleague. His degrees from Caltech and MIT, and his Hertz Fellowship (awarded annually to the nation’s most promising graduate students in science and technology) are impressive. More importantly he’s also got a knack for inventing, licensing, and growing technologies into large, profitable ventures. I reached out, knowing that, if I could capture his interest, we’d have a blast taking on this challenge together.
As co-founders, we scoured the market looking for insights and pain points. We were surprised to learn how many people wanted to build a rink but lacked the intestinal fortitude to try. There was clearly room in this market for innovation. So, for years, we invented, built, tested, and improved our designs, landing on a product that, it turns out, the market really loves.
What are you most excited about for the coming season?
After our launch last year, I couldn't be more excited for this season, and many after it. We just inked a significant licensing deal with the NHL (the only one of its kind in this market), we’ve dialed up our US manufacturing with some fantastic suppliers, and we’re launching a retail pilot with a phenomenal mega sports chain in the Upper Midwest. We’ve also added major product enhancements like custom-size rinks and a sweet puck retention net (this season every YardRink will ship with a net for both ends). Oh, and we’re expanding our reach into Canada. I thought offseason was going to be quiet!
How is YardRink different from the other companies you've worked with in the past?
After decades of working in an industry that is all about saving lives, I wondered whether hockey rinks would put air in my sails. But I have been so surprised at how fulfilling this has been! We started this company with the simple goal of creating a little joy in the world (and having a little fun ourselves), and so far, we have checks in both those boxes. Start-up people thrive on hearing the stories of their product’s impact on people’s lives. We have some truly amazing ones to cherish already, but we can’t wait to hear more of them this season and beyond.
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