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Young Entrepreneur Puts Engineering Principles to Work in Skateboard Manufacturing Business

Just off the eastern edge of the Old Dominion University campus, a 22-year-old mechanical engineering student has taken charge of his quest for an engineering career after his studies are done.

You could say he's on a roll.

Two years ago, Rob Stuart and his brother Andrew started selling skateboards they had made in their parents' garage in Chesapeake. They now sell about 250 boards a year under the brand name XVD Longboards. "XVD" is the first three letters of Stuart's license plate, symbolic of the small company's start, selling skateboards out of the trunk of his car.

When Stuart transferred to ODU in 2009 and enrolled in the Batten College of Engineering and Technology, after two years at Tidewater Community College, the brothers moved their manufacturing operation to a building on 44th Street, just east of campus. They now sell the boards out of the same storefront.

The operation pays its bills, but neither of the Stuart brothers is getting rich from their hobby. But that's not the point. Rob Stuart thinks the experience of starting a hands-on business from the ground up will help him, regardless of what career he ends up pursuing.

It is, of course, pretty good practice for being an engineer.

"All the principles, all the design that goes into the formulas, the equations, you're able to take what you know from that and actually apply it in the real world," Stuart said.

"It might not be on the same level as that in a 'real' job, but at the same time you're getting to play around in the real world and actually figure out how something works - to take it off the page and make it into something real."

The brothers and their small staff design and build all the boards on site, taking deliveries of maple, bamboo or Russian birch wood and pressing, molding, cutting, shaping, polishing and finishing the skateboards, which retail for between $150 and $300.

Many of the machines they use at the shop they built themselves, including a 16-ton hydraulic press.

Stuart, who has been an avid skateboarder for four years, said the skater community is diverse. There are free spirits and anti-authority figures, but also guys like him, who look at building skateboards as a physical and mental challenge.

"I like the physicality of how to make it, solving problems. It's all engineering principles. You can do it without this knowledge, but you get a better result if you understand the engineering principles behind it."

Stuart is scheduled to graduate from ODU in spring 2012. He's hopeful that his time as a skateboard-making entrepreneur will be attractive to prospective employers.

"I can point to tangible creations, tangible results already, even though I might not have a pedigree that comes from a high-status internship. But I can point to all of this, that we built all of this."

Ultimately, Stuart isn't sure where his career will lead, but he's confident that it will be something he's passionate about. "When you look at a lot of people who are successful, they sort of invented their job description. They created something brand-new, which they may not even have known could have existed."

This article was posted on: May 20, 2011

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