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Like many inventors, Medford’s Mike Hourani created the Pizza Pocket because it seemed like a great solution to a common problem. In his case: the difficulty of keeping pizza warm and intact while eating on the go.

It may have started out as a joke, but the more he saw the reaction when he pulled the pizza out in public (especially when he offered a slice to someone else), the more the civil engineer became convinced there was a market for his novel – and endearingly strange – product.

But then there was another problem: how to come up with the cash needed to actually make his new product. Hourani, 27, turned to Kickstarter, a crowdsourcing site that supports everyday people who have new solutions to problems you didn’t know you had. It worked, and now The Pizza Pocket is Hourani’s successful side hustle.

Like Hourani, plenty of other South Jersey inventors have taken to Kickstarter to get their ideas funded by people who fall in love with their product.

 

Pizza Pocket Hoodie

96 backers/$7,235 pledged
Hourani is a civil engineer by day and pizza sweatshirt inventor by night. He founded ScrapTownUSA, a company that used Kickstarter to launch the Pizza Pocket Hoodie.

The Pizza Pocket hoodie

The name says it all. “It’s like a regular hoodie, but better, because it has a pocket for a slice of pizza,” says Hourani.

To keep your pizza warm and your sweatshirt clean, it features a removable triangular insulated pouch in a pocket that looks like a piece of pizza. Who needs a product like this, you ask? No one, and that’s part of its charm.
“We thought this might be crazy enough to work,” Hourani says. “The product is silly enough for people to share with their friends. Once we did, it took off on its own.”

The venture, which launched on Kickstarter in February, was fully funded in three days – and it went viral. Pizza Pocket was first featured locally on 6abc Action News and then nationally on “Good Morning America” and “Live with Kelly and Ryan.” Soon after, Hourani started getting orders from all around the world –Japan, Hong Kong, France, Australia and Germany – giving this South Jersey-based business a global reach.

 

Stargazer Cast Iron 10.5-Inch Skillet

Peter Huntley holds the Stargazer skillet

602 backers/$56,266 pledged
Stargazer started where many a great business emerges: in a garage. Three years ago, co-founder Peter Huntley hand-seasoned, packaged and shipped orders to his Kickstarter backers from his Cherry Hill home. But today, the cast iron skillet company assembles and distributes its products in the company’s warehouse in Pennsylvania.

After spending more than a year (unsuccessfully) searching for the perfect cast iron skillet, Huntley teamed up with two friends to create Stargazer Cast Iron, a company that makes handmade, lightweight redesigned cast iron skillets. The next step was Stargazer’s Kickstarter campaign, which went live in 2015 and raised a quick $56,000 in pre-orders from some 600 people.

“We had almost nothing going into it, maybe enough to make the first couple hundred skillets, but this allowed us to invest in equipment and produce on a scale we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise,” he says. “It threw gas on the fire.”

Now, Stargazer is a direct-to-consumer business that brands itself as a revolution in cast iron. And the customers Stargazer gained from Kickstarter became the company’s biggest brand ambassadors. They spread the word and came back to buy skillets for family and friends. But even if they didn’t, at least Huntley finally had the skillet he was looking for. His favorite recipe?

“Classic cast iron cornbread,” he says. “I tweaked my recipe – I use maple syrup instead of sugar. That’s my personal secret, you can have that one for free.”

 

The All-In-One RPG Strongbox

The RPG Strongbox

128 backers/$23,659 pledged
Sometimes a product that serves a specific community needs that community’s help to make it happen. That’s exactly how Southhampton resident Tom Swogger launched his latest table-top roll-playing game product on Kickstarter.

“I found success in finding people just like me,” says Swogger, CEO of Tabletop Things. “I’m kind of a nerd. I just ask myself what I want in my games. What do I want to make this experience better, more fun, more interesting, and how can I make that happen for other people?”

The RPG Strongbox, which raised more than $23,000 in Kickstarter pre-orders, is a hand-crafted dice box equipped with a rolling tray, a game piece compartment, universal dice holders and a space for any other materials role players may need.

Although Tabletop Things is an already established business in Medford, Swogger joined Kickstarter looking for a different approach to production. Raising money ahead of the product launch allowed him to drive the price down, but the process was completely different than selling through his website, Swogger says.

“There’s a lot of community-building that needs to happen,” he says. “With the products we sell traditionally, we create ads, put them out there and sell units. But with Kickstarter, it’s all or nothing. The driving force of the community has to come together, and that helps you build a product.”

With the campaign freshly funded (by more than 230 percent), Swogger and his team are busy handcrafting the wooden boxes, laser cutting engravings, packing them up and shipping them out.
“We’re totally stoked,” he says. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

 

Philly Tarot Card Project

Philadelphia Tarot Cards

801 backers / $44,407 pledged
Collingswood’s James Boyle didn’t know much about tarot cards before creating his Philly-themed deck, but he didn’t need a message from the cosmos to know it would be a success.

As a freelance illustrator, Boyle was originally commissioned to create a Philadelphia-themed tarot card illustration for an online article.

“People immediately asked if it was real,” Boyle says. “I got so much positive feedback that I saw a great opportunity and grabbed on.”

He immersed himself in the world of tarot – getting readings, learning the history – and illustrated 78 tarot cards with a Philadelphia twist (Ben Franklin, Gritty and the Rocky statue all make an appearance).

“The references are humorous,” Boyle says. “It’s a little tongue-in-cheek in the way the guidebook is written, so you don’t need to be a professional tarot reader to enjoy it.”

He launched his Kickstarter last year, and more than $44,000 later, he went from artist to entrepreneur.

“All of a sudden I have to keep track of things like developing relationships with storeowners and keeping the product in stock,” Boyle says. “It was tough, but also exhilarating.”

Now you can find Boyle’s tarot cards all over South Jersey and Philadelphia, most notably showcased in the Philadelphia Museum of Art gift shop. Boyle doesn’t see this as a full-time job – “I don’t think people will be clamoring for tarot cards forever,” – but he has loved illustrating the city.

“Maybe I’m being sentimental,” he says, “but I was happy to be able to contribute to the culture of the area.”

 


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December 2019
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