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Eagle Feature: FGCU Students Exceeding Education’s Expectations

FGCU Daveler & Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship : Thomas Sear
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Jessica Piland

Through FGCU’s Runway Program, a free business incubator, an entrepreneurship student made his product concept a reality. 

While commuting to campus, senior Thomas Sear noticed the amount of fragile fishing rods sitting in the back of trucks. Worried about the rods breaking, he devised the idea to make a rod holder that could be bolted onto a truck’s metal frame securing them into place: this would become a product known as the Bite Belt. 

The Runway Program is designed to help students understand the business process to start a company. Throughout the semester, participants must identify a problem and develop a solution and a plan that can be tested by real customers. Toward the end, qualifying participants can pitch for equity-free funding that can take their business to the next level. 

Sear participated in the program in the spring of 2023. 

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“I made one [rod holder] because I was sick and tired of breaking my own rods,” Sear said. “I made a crappy one and then a bunch of random people and peers were like ‘How did you make that? Can I get one of those?’ That was around the same time I wanted to do Runway so I knew I had some validation that this would be a product that is needed.”

Jessica Piland

He received $9,000 through the program to launch his startup. 

“I liked the idea of pitching for funding and getting money to actually start something,” he said. “All of these resources are available. So, I saw that, and I already had an established idea. I thought ‘Let me take all these resources and try to build this company and see how it works.’” 

Using the engineering software available on campus, Sear engineered the first version of the Bite Belt to establish a design concept. Once he received the funding, he handed off the prototype to an engineer to optimize the product for injection molding. This cleaned up and stabilized the product. He also worked with a Southwest Florida company called Synergy Sales, which offered him the chance to make the first few prototypes at a discounted rate with a student discount. 

Currently, the Bite Belt is in the final stage of prototyping. Once finished, the product will be distributed by small lot production. A total of 50 will be made and dispersed to fishing Youtubers and influencers, local tackle stores and different conventions such as boat shows. This is one way Sear can build exposure and get feedback before manufacturing more of the product. 

Sear uses an online direct-to-consumer business model. He will sell the Bite Belt on his website, www.bitebelt.com, where customers can order the product and it will be shipped to their house. However, he values having in-store products because of the eco-tourism economy of Florida. 

“I want to get the product in all these shops because people that come in can buy the rods and then take them back to where they live and not have to worry about them breaking. It’s just good exposure – word of mouth. Even if I get five in each little tackle shop around here, it’s really good,” Sear said. 

Customers can choose from two models on the website: the Bite Belt V1 retails for $219 and the Bite Belt Pro Aluminum retails for $309. 

“[Bite Belt] is high quality. It’s made in the USA. It’s about three times the cost to get it made in the USA, but that’s something I’m kind of passionate about,” he said. “It also has a sustainability factor. Some of the materials are recycled from ocean prep plastics. So, that’s a little bit more expensive and that’s kind of where my higher price point comes in.” 

During his time in the Runway Program, Sear developed a mentor-mentee relationship with Jonathan Schaffer, the manager of Entrepreneurship Outreach Programs for the Runway Program. 

“Engaging in extensive discussions, refining his business pitch and strategizing for the future, I recognized in Thomas a spirit of innovation and impact,” Schaffer said. 

He foresees Sear and Bite Belt being successful. 

“His entrepreneurial mindset, coupled with a heartfelt commitment to making a sustainable difference, promises a significant and lasting impact,” he said. “For Bite Belt, I foresee it becoming a key player in the outdoor recreation market, with aspirations for it to be featured in leading retailers such as Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s. Beyond commercial success, I hope it serves as a testament to Thomas’ innovative vision and dedication to solving real-world challenges.”

Sear attributes his success to the entrepreneurship program. 

“I love the program,” Sear said. “I’m trying to give back to the kids that are just starting in [the Runway Program] now. I’m doing a little bit of mentorship. I’m just trying to support the program since they supported me.”

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About the Contributors
Alexandra Cavalier, Eagle News Assistant Assignment & Features Editor
Alexandra Cavalier is a junior majoring in journalism. She is from Bradenton, FL, and has been interested in journalism since she joined the yearbook staff during her freshman year of high school. In the future, she hopes to pursue a career in publishing. When not planning her next story, you can find her studying art history or watching movies.
Jessica Piland, Eagle News Photo Editor
Jessica Piland is a senior majoring in political science and minoring in global studies. She found her passion for photography during her senior year of high school after shooting some film for fun with her grandfather’s camera from the 80s. In addition to her work as photo editor for Eagle News, she works as a staff photographer for FGCU Athletics and is a photography intern with the University Marketing and Communications department. As she enters her third year as photo editor, she is excited for the fun stories, campus events, and breaking news that Eagle News will be covering!

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