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Gilson Snowboard & Ski Co. finds success on the slopes with SBA assistance

Nick Gilson is Founder and CEO of Gilson Snowboard & Ski Co., a manufacturer of snowboards and skis located in Winfield, Pa. A 2011 graduate from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences, he attributes his motivation for starting his company to the middle school students taught in Nashville. Inspired by the design of catamarans, he created the first prototype of his snowboard in his father's boat building workshop when he was just 14.

Gilson Snowboard & Ski Co. designs and builds snowboards and skis that enhance riders experience on the mountain. While other snowboards and skis are flat on the bottom, Gilson’s feature a three-dimensional profile that fundamentally changes how its surface interacts with snow. Protected by three patents, Gilson's designs are described by riders and industry experts as the most advanced and playful snowboards and skis in the world.

Over the past four years, SBA-funded resource partner Bucknell University Small Business Development Center has been a resource for Gilson through every phase of his business: from concept to capitalization and from creation to product launch. From the earliest days of his firm, Gilson and his team worked with SBDC consultants who advised him in business planning, industry research, and market analysis. Additionally, the SBDC critiqued Gilson's investor pitch, and helped him refine his financial projections.

“The Bucknell SBDC has been an invaluable resource. They’ve rallied behind our effort; welcoming us to the community and guiding us with sound advice,” Gilson Snowboard & Ski Co. Founder/CEO Nick Gilson said. “We merge the woodworking heritage of the region with the precision of modern technology, building snowboards and skis that are of the highest quality in construction. We source locally and focus on sustainable growth that benefits the organization, their people, and the community.”

“Excited to get their snowboards on the market, the team came to the SBDC, where they received guidance in business planning and capital formation. The center's Engineering Development Services also helped them explore the limits of their unique geometry through computer-aided modeling and analysis,” said Director Steven Stumbris, Bucknell University SBDC. “Gilson’s is a small business making a big impact in their industry. At Bucknell’s SBDC we’re happy to have played a part in their achievements and it’s great that they’re doing it in central Pennsylvania.”

In 2014, Gilson succeeded in securing over $150,000 in private investments and equity contributions. The SBDC was also instrumental in connecting his firm with other resources within the university and throughout the community. These introductions helped Gilson access the resources of many other service providers. Elected officials throughout the region and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have championed Gilson for his commitment to American manufacturing. Gilson also received assistance from the center's Engineering Development Services; collaborating with students and faculty in research and product development. Through a partnership with Bucknell University's College of Engineering, Gilson was able to investigate the potential of his unique board geometry via 3-D modeling, computer simulation, and materials analysis.

Just over five years ago, Nicholas Gilson and one of his earliest team-members, Austin Royer, began building the first snowboard prototypes in a basement workshop. With the formation of the company, they began using a repurposed barn on Austin's family's farm, but very rapidly outgrew that space. Today the "Snowboard & Ski Farm" is a 5,500 sq. ft. facility that efficiently houses the company – including design, manufacturing, shipping operations and a retail store. While still early in their penetration into the snowboard and ski industry, the sales growth of the company tells the story of their business model.

Gilson’s has increased sales over 2.5 times every year since launch. The company has grown from the early days of being just Gilson and his co-founder Austin to a current employment level of 17 and ultimately has set its sights on being a $30 million dollar snowboard, ski, and winter sports gear company.

At this early stage, the company invests in systems, technology, and people that will position the company for sustainable growth into the future. Prominent in his portfolio is developing relationships with his customers and the community. Word of mouth for Gilson's brand in the snowboarding and skiing communities is incredibly strong: both in-person whenever Gilson or one of his team members are on the slopes; or online, where millions of fans like, share, and comment on their YouTube video channel and social media posts.

“I was honored to have the opportunity to highlight such a deserving business owner,” said Business Consultant Dennis Hummer, Bucknell University Small Business Development Center. “Gilson’s believes in the value of American artisan manufacturing. The wood cores are shaped from locally grown and sustainably-harvested Pennsylvania poplar trees and their boards and skis are crafted under one roof at The Gilson Snowboard & Ski Farm, here in the Appalachian foothills of central Pennsylvania.”

Gilson now holds several patents for the innovative design of his snowboards and skis and the science behind the company’s products was featured in a video distributed nationally by PBS. He has received numerous awards for product design and leadership, including the 2015 "Innovation in New Product Development Award" from the Bucknell University SBDC. Regionally, the company was recognized as the Small Business of the Year by the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce in 2017. On the national level, Gilson made WIRED Magazine's "Gear of the Year" list in 2015 and in 2016 the company was named as one of Outside Magazine's favorite brands born in America.

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Company Name: 
Gilson Snowboard & Ski Co.
Location: 
Winfield, PA