July 4, 2017

College testing- it’s an experience we’re all familiar with. In fact, we may even have nightmares about it! From missing your test to showing up unprepared, there is a lot to worry about, but space shouldn’t be one of them. Andrew Shao (Epsilon Sigma Chapter ‘15) realized this during a statistics exam at the University of Iowa. He couldn’t focus and lost a lot of time due to having to juggle his scantron, notesheet, pencils, eraser, calculator and test on his tiny desk. Later Andrew found that this problem wasn’t isolated to him. Almost every other student he talked to experienced the same problem. What was different about him, was that he decided to do something about it. Enter the Desk Buddy.

“The biggest thing that inspired me to take action was knowing that I could make a significant difference in improving the experience students like myself had while in class and during exams,” said Andrew. “The average college student spends hundreds of hours per academic semester suffering behind the tiny lecture hall desks.” The Desk Buddy turns that tiny desk into a comfortable workspace extending it by nearly one foot. All you have to do is take it out of your backpack, position it on your desk and tighten the knob!

When it was time to take concept to production, Andrew faced some challenges along the way. “We 3D printed eleven different versions of the desk extension before we finally arrived at a version that could meet the criteria.” He had to come up with a prototype that could be manufactured to fit all lecture hall desks nationwide, could hold a significant amount of weight and that could also be manufactured at a reasonable cost. “While it was a good idea and met a need that consumers had, it required a lot of innovation and creative problem solving on the engineering side to actually bring the concept to a stage where it could be manufactured.”

What Andrew wasn’t challenged with was support and product backers. An IndieGoGo campaign was set up to get the Desk Buddy up and running. The campaign closed on June 2, 2016 at 102% funded. He also received 1st place by Shark Tank’s Daymond John during a pitch competition in front of over 2,000 students and community members. This resulted in a $2,000 prize for funding, which he states as the biggest highlight in this journey. Andrew also had a little help from his Brothers in Phi Sigma Pi. “From the time I first shared the idea with my Chapter to our product launch and first manufacturing run, I received a tremendous amount of support from anyone I asked” said Andrew. “If you look at our promotional videos and packaging, all of the individuals featured as actors and models were PSP Members! They not only helped me by taking multiple hours out of their day to film… but also by spreading the word on campus.”

Andrew assures that “the product wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for my Brothers,” and that’s in a pretty good place! The Desk Buddy is currently on it’s way to being carried by over 100 bookstores and is now available on Amazon. “In the future we would like to be in every major college bookstore nationwide as well as in other stores internationally.” Want to support Andrew’s invention? He’s calling on Members to “spread the word to friends about the product and show support by purchasing a Desk Buddy on Amazon and leaving a review.” It’s when we support each other that we create a space to succeed.