Marketing major and ICAT senior Eli Dent was named Student Entrepreneur of the Year last week at the Tommy Baker Entrepreneurship Hour — an annual College of Charleston School of Business event that celebrates both new and seasoned entrepreneurs.
Dent, an avid soccer player since the age of four, has spent nearly a year working on SideKik — a product that helps soccer players hone their ball-handling skills and gives soccer enthusiasts the opportunity to rep their favorite team.
“Soccer culture in America mimics what they’re doing in Europe and South America,” says Dent. “We have the scarves, the horns, the whistles, but none of it is engaging. I wanted to create something that could involve fans in a more intimate way that also has a major impact on the soccer industry in the U.S.”
Made for children and pros alike, SideKik is similar to a Hacky Sack, but sports additional features that make it fun and easy to use.
The foot-long gadget has feathers to create resistance and a weight that enables it to flip when kicked. The feathers come in an assortment of colors associated with American soccer teams such as Tormenta FC (navy and magenta), Charleston Battery USL (black and yellow), Seattle Sounders FC and Emerald City FC (green and blue) and Atlanta United FC (black and red).
Dent’s connection with Tormenta FC is personal. Last May, he geared up and joined the Statesboro, Georgia-based team for their summer season. In fact, it was through this relationship that SideKik was first born.
In September of 2016, Dent approached the team’s owners, Darin and Netra Van Tassell, about using the product in their training sessions and selling it as team-affiliated merchandise.
They decided to give it a shot, and with that, Dent ordered his first 300 SideKiks from a manufacturer. He believed if he could sell his product in Statesboro, a historically football-centric city with zero soccer culture, he could sell SideKik everywhere. It would become the ultimate case study.
After seeing initial success, Dent pitched SideKik to Lloyd’s Soccer shop in Charleston (with additional locations in Greenville and Atlanta), where he has fond memories of getting soccer equipment as a child.
Lloyd’s decided to purchase 30 SideKiks as a trial, and sold out within two weeks. The owners immediately placed another order, this time for 80, and have been ordering 80 SideKiks every two weeks for all three locations ever since.
No stranger to owning his own business, Dent started his first company, U-Hacky, in high school. “Let’s just say I ordered 1,000 Hacky Sacks to sell and have 990 still sitting at my mom’s house to this day,” says Dent.
Despite the failure, he says he has no regrets and that the experience taught him a lot about sales, marketing and understanding consumer behavior — all lessons he’s used to kick-start a bright future in business.