Leap of Faith: College students help vets by turning parachutes into outdoor gear
Grove City College senior Levi Roberts likened starting a business to skydiving.
“When you’re standing at the open door of a plane 20,000 feet in the air, human survival instinct says, ‘This is a bad move,’” he said. “But,after you get over the initial jump of death, the parachute opens, you slow down and things turn peaceful in an instant.”
Roberts and his friends Michael Bonnet and Stephen Weaver took a leap when they launched Chute, a Pittsburgh-based startup that transforms military parachutes into drawstring backpacks, key chains, bandannas, grocery bags and lanyards. The items can be purchased at chuteshop.com .
The business partners also are working to manufacture hammocks.
A portion of sale proceeds goes to veterans’ organizations.
The company usually obtains parachutes from surplus stores. Several seamstresses and Bonnet, who attends Westminster College, tailor the large fabric into small, lightweight and durable gear.
While most of the products are military green, Chute accepts parachutes of all colors. When someone donated a bright orange canopy, the team turned it into dozens of jack-o-lantern-themed trick-or-treating bags.
Chute started in 2017, when Roberts and his then-roommate Boyce Cubarney – both entrepreneur majors at Grove City College – were talking about launching a business with a social conscience.
Cubarney suggested making parachutes into hammocks with profits benefiting veterans.
The students formed a team and pitched their idea at Techstars Startup Weekend, hosted by East Liberty business incubator AlphaLab Gear. Innovators, designers, programmers and dreamers had 54 hours to turn their thoughts into actions. Along the way they received advice on product development, marketing and day-to-day operations.
Chute placed second in the competition, which coincided with Veterans Day 2017.
All of the Chute organizers have family members who are either active duty or retired service members. Weaver’s uncle, a 101st Airborne Army Ranger, was killed by an IED in Afghanistan in 2010.
Last spring, veterans from across Mercer County gathered in Grove City for a free lunch, a car show, live music and the opportunity to see Chute members skydive with veteran Louis Disanti, an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Chute recently donated $500 to Brevard Veterans Memorial Center in Florida, where Weaver’s family member works. The company is partnering with local veterans’ organizations in the coming year, starting with a holiday food drive.
Kristy Locklin is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.