Zee Bait Co. — Awarded $25k in 2017 UP/Start Competition

Growing up angling in the creeks and streams of southeast Pennsylvania, Hunter Grogan ’14, ’16 (Environmental Design B.F.A., Business of Art and Design M.P.S.) knows what it takes to catch a fish. So two years ago, when he was home bass fishing with a friend and each began complaining about the poor-quality bait they were using, the product designer in him thought he could make it better.

He began by calling on employees at some of the biggest companies in the industry — including DeWALT and Stanley Black and Decker — to share their knowledge on manufacturing processes. And after a lot of trial and error, Grogan taught himself how to make bait. Using his experience in Environmental Design, he did rapid prototyping with silicon molds and spent a year testing the product with actual fishermen to ensure he got it right.

“DeWALT and classes at MICA taught me that,” he said about the importance of customer testing and the research and design process. He studied object design and product manufacturing as a student and worked on projects with DeWALT, Stanley Black and Decker and ZeroChroma. “I learned from the people who were actually doing it, selling consumer products.”

As he launched Zee Bait Co., which specializes in premium artificial bait for bass fishing, Grogan stayed true to another value he learned at MICA — being environmentally conscious. He strives to ensure the company’s bait is free from toxic phthalates found in almost all soft-plastic bait, making it better for the environment, fish and end eater.

Often on the road promoting his products at fishing shows, Grogan has worked hard to grow the business while producing everything himself for a long time — and with only his mom helping fill the occasional order. With an exceptional 85 percent returning customer rate and five national-level anglers helping promote Zee Bait products, he sees great potential, but sees the Up/Start Venture Competition as a way to help manage the growth, hire staff and allow “me to do innovating instead of the business, which is taking up all of my day.”

“Eighteen hour days can be painful but they’re fun because I get to talk about fishing all day,” he said. In July, he’s heading to ICAST, one of the biggest fishing shows in the world, where he is hoping to launch as a national brand.