One day while hitting the slopes, recent college graduate Christian Nitu had his skis and poles stolen. That led him and five friends, all hardcore skiers and then-business students, to develop a product designed to keep gear safe.
His company, SnowGate, makes outdoor locker systems that are currently used at Winter Park Resort in Colorado. Mobile-controlled, card-activated, and accessible 24/7, it’s an update to the old padlocked systems in many base lodges. The cost: $2 per hour, and $6 for overnight storage.
Skiers just swipe a credit card, choose an available locker, and securely store anything—including skis via a locked rail.
The SnowGate smartphone app then allows users to manage their locker remotely including locking and unlocking their gear and paying for their locker.
And now SnowGate is vying for $200,000 in a business competition sponsored by a beer company.
After winning several local business startup competitions, Nitu and his business partner, Cory Finney, entered the Miller Lite Tap The Future contest. They won $20,000 at the semifinals—where they had five minutes to pitch their business—and are now up for and additional $200,000 in the final round.
“If you can’t pitch a business in five minutes, you’ll most likely pitch your way out of a deal,” says Steve Canal, a Miller Lite contest representative.
In the finals, August 16, they will be judged for their ability to discuss the in-depth details of their business plan with a panel of judges.
Canal says the qualities they look for in startups include an ability to grow, the need for the product, the energy between the business partners, and the brand story.
But while the pilot locker system is currently only at a ski resort (which has a big bike presence in summer), Nitu says it’s not limited to mountains.
“Whether you’re going to be at a beach, or a gym, or hitting the slopes, we’re going to provide a way that you can use all those lockers,” Nitu says.
SnowGate began use at Winter Park last ski season.
“We were all holding our breaths when we turned on the on switch in November,” Nitu says.
It was so well received that SnowGate turned a profit, and Winter Park ordered more. The entrepreneurs are also working on nailing down a contract with Copper Mountain, also in Colorado.
“We see the value in taking these old legacy things, and applying technology, and thinking different than how other people think,” Finney says.