Mississippi State University wildlife and fisheries major Charles Parker hooked the $10,000 first place prize during MSU's Office of Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer Entrepreneurship Week for his fishing gear business.
Parker acquired Rod Sox, a fishing rod protector company, in May 2013 after deciding he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and work in the fishing tackle industry.
"I had already spent several summers working with my father and his soft, plastic fishing lure manufacturing company, and it finally clicked that I could actually make a living and talk about fishing at the same time," Parker said. "The idea was that Rod Sox could be a training ground for me to learn the ins and outs of the fishing tackle industry on my own, but still work closely with my father."
After acquiring Rod Sox, Parker made several changes to the product in order to make it more durable and marketable. Some of the changes included increasing the density of the rod protector's mesh for added durability and adding a rubber tag to allow rods to be hung on a wall.
"We are also pursuing co-branding opportunities with other companies," Parker said. "Basically what we are selling is a service to anglers to simplify their equipment so they can maximize their time on the water."
Parker said the prize money he won during Entrepreneur Week will help him gain more inventory to keep up with increasing demand.
"I need more inventory so I can get new dealers to sell to, but to get inventory, I need to bring in payments from new dealers. It's somewhat of a 'chicken and egg' dilemma," Parker said. "So the cash infusion is huge in helping me get over my next hump and keep up with sales."
Eric Hill, MSU Office of Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer program coordinator, said Parker is a student entrepreneurship all-star.
"In the six months or so he has been involved in our organization, Charles has demonstrated a strong growth trajectory, and his business acumen is well beyond his years," Hill said. "All of us involved with the Entrepreneurship Center and our advisory board strongly believe in his vision, ability to execute and ultimately realize substantial success."
Hill said Rod Sox defeated 31 business start-ups in the competition, but that Parker gained more than just a first place title.
"Entrepreneurship Week isn't just about the money or the competitions. It challenges students to get out there in front of their peers and industry eaders to receive positive criticism to ultimately give them a better shot at success," Hill said. "It does a fantastic job of showing other students out there that they have the capacity to create something big, too."
Parker will graduate on May 16 with a bachelor's degree in wildlife, fisheries and aquaculture and begins graduate school at MSU this fall.
After completing his education, Parker said he plans to return to his home state of Texas and continue contributing to the fishing industry.
"I think anyone who has ever caught a fish will tell you the same thing: there is nothing in the world like that split second when you realize you have a fish on the other end of your line," Parker said. "It's that feeling of child-like excitement on Christmas morning, and if my work in the fishing tackle industry can help spread that feeling, or make a fishing trip less of a hassle so a dad feels more comfortable taking his son or daughter out for a day on the lake, then I am going to work my hardest to make that happen."