Sometimes inspiration can arrive when it’s least expected.
For Saint John’s University junior Joseph Luedke, that time came in the wee small hours of the morning. It was then that the lifelong golfer’s vision for a new golfing tool first took shape.
“It was November of 2020 and it was about 2 or 3 a.m.,” recalls Luedke, an integrative science major and a member of the Entrepreneur Scholars (E-Scholars) program at the College of Saint Benedict and SJU. “I was taking a two-credit Entrepreneurship class – Intro to Product Design and Prototyping, taught by (physics professor) Greg Taft – and this idea popped into my head for a golf tool that would keep the grip end (of a club) dry and out of the dewy grass when a player sets it down.
“My early prototype was really just a Y-shape. It looked like a slingshot.”
But Luedke kept refining his model as a member of the 17th cohort of the E-Scholar program, the signature three-course sequence of courses in which students are expected to “launch something” by completion. He actively sought feedback from other golfers he met at the Bryan Skavnak Golf Academy in Plymouth.
Luedke has worked at the academy – based out of the Parkers Lake Golf Center – the past five years as an instructor, and before that learned the game from Skavnak, who is himself an SJU graduate.
“Bryan has been a lifelong mentor to me on and off the course,” Luedke said. “Working there enabled me to get feedback from a bunch of clients. I talked to over 350 golfers in all. During lessons, I’d show them the tool, have them work with it and get their feedback.
“Then I’d incorporate that feedback into the design process. So actual golfers and end-users were represented every step of the way.”
The result is The Hummingbird, essentially a Swiss Army Knife-like, six-in-one tool for the golf course – featuring a bottle opener, magnet, divot tool, ball alignment stencil, groove cleaner and the aforementioned club rest.
“But the nice thing about The Hummingbird is that – unlike a Swiss Army Knife – there are no moving components,” Luedke said. “It’s all a one-piece, elegant design.”
A first run of 500 have been produced. Luedke will begin taking orders on his company’s website and in-person on campus on April 1. The Hummingbird tool retails for $18.99 and Luedke hopes it is just the start for his company, which he envisions expanding to produce customized Hummingbirds and other golf-related accessories and apparel.
In the meantime, his efforts have already gained first-place honors in the Minnesota regional round of the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards – sponsored by the Entrepreneur’s Organization, a global network with a focus on aiding other entrepreneurs and helping them reach their full potential.
That earned him a $1,000 prize and a trip to Chicago over spring break earlier this month to present at the national competition.
“It was amazing to be around 22 other fantastic entrepreneurs like me who are in college and running their own ventures,” Luedke said.
Margrette Newhouse, director of the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship at CSB and SJU, said the honor was well-deserved.
“He’s amazing,” Newhouse said of Luedke. “He’s on top of every detail involving the projects he works on. He’s super-thoughtful about everything he does. He’s somebody we’re going to want to watch to see what he ends up accomplishing in the years to come.”
But Luedke is the first to acknowledge he could not have gotten to this point on his own.
- A Student Accelerator Grant (SAG Fund), funded by CSB and SJU graduates through the Donald McNeely Center to support student prototyping and early launch initiative expenses, meant his market research and prototypes were fully funded.
- Ashley Ortizcazarin, a fellow member of the E-Scholars E-17 Cohort, designed his company logo and helped formulate its motto and vision. And Gabe Mattick, another E-17 Cohort member, provided valuable coaching and consulting.
- Max Vogel, a sophomore at SJU who has worked with other student start-ups, created the website for Luedke’s company. Adam Konczewski, who works for CSB and SJU Information Technology Services and runs the Maker Lab in CSB’s Clemens Library, provided integral design help.
- Jim Kuhn, director of planned giving in SJU Institutional Advancement, helped with contacts. And Jason Hardie, an SJU alum and a McNeely Center “Center Mentor,” provided valuable assistance during design iteration.
- Bardia Bijani Aval and Joe Caughey, SJU graduates and co-founders of TRIINK Tools, were mentors who helped Luedke navigate various challenges he faced along the way and line up a manufacturer. McNeely Center coordinator Kelli Gradin helped him set up events and tabling opportunities.
- And Luedke credited faculty members such as Newhouse, E-Scholars program director Paul Marsnik, global business leadership professor Steve Schwarz and accounting professor Ben Trnka with lending assistance, advice and inspiration as well.
“Overwhelming gratitude is the first phrase that comes into my mind when I think back on the process that has led me to where I am now,” Luedke said. “It’s amazing to see the way the CSB and SJU community rallies around ventures like this and wants to see them succeed.
“When I first stepped foot on this campus in the fall of 2019, I would have never imagined that I’d be here now with an LLC already tied to my name, taking the stage in Chicago at a national entrepreneurship competition and on the verge of a real product launch. To see what started out as a late-night sketch on a piece of paper finally come to fruition is a great feeling.
“I can’t wait to see The Hummingbird finally take flight.”