Caleb Lystrup set up his hammock last June as the heat of the day transitioned to a chilly desert night. With one extra sleeping bag, it only made sense for him to wrap it around the outside of his hammock to trap his body heat. That night is when his idea for Khione Outdoor Gear was born.
BYU mechanical engineer Ph.D. student Lystrup and his teammate, graduate mechanical engineering student Casey Messick, won both crowd favorite and first place at BYU’s Student Innovator of the Year (SIOY) competition, winning a total of $7,000 in prizes. Engineers and students from all majors compete annually for the chance to win funding for their inventions and business ideas.
Lystrup said they called their business Khione Outdoor Gear because Khione is the Greek goddess of winter, and their product, the Shel, is designed to enable hammockers to continue hammocking in all weather.
“Imagine a product that replaces a tent, replaces a sleeping bag and packs the size of a hammock. That’s our product,” Lystrup said. “The Shel is this thin, heavily-engineered shell that wraps around your hammock and keeps you warm through convective heating, radiative heating (and) conductive heating.”
CEO of Accelerum Advisors and Student Innovator of the Year judge William Benz said the Khione team won first place for several reasons.
“They solved a real-world problem,” Benz said. “They developed and tested a number of prototypes. They undertook good engineering analysis work to verify that their prototype worked properly. They developed a product that would be able to be manufactured and sold with reasonable profit margins.”
Benz said the judges were also impressed with the team’s ability to demonstrate their product and the research behind its market viability.
Both Lystrup and Messick said their win came from a great investment of time.
“Our project was at a point that every hour we spent on it would make huge changes in the level of our success, but this had to be weighed against my other responsibilities as a graduate student and research assistant,” Messick said.
Lystrup said prayer played a huge role in the entire process. He said whenever he wanted to give up, he would pray and feel reassured to keep going with the project.
“I don’t feel like any of my good ideas are from me … they are a result of prayer,” Lystrup said. “We can work our tails off and get nowhere, and then all of a sudden pray, and it’s like, ‘Boom,’ there’s a really good answer.”
Messick said the team’s next step is refining the design and making the product even better. Lystrup said they hope to launch Shel sales soon.
President of the interior design company Alice Lane Drew James served as a mentor for Khione through the Student Innovator of the Year process. James said Lystrup and Messick are sure to go far in their business endeavors.
“I envision Khione carving out a strong foothold on Amazon and other digital retailers, and then eventually developing a brand that will be recognized and sold across the country in physical locations, like REI and Scheels,” James said. “I think this will be the first in a long line of products from them.”