Becoming an entrepreneur wasn’t in Suzanne Matthews’ four-year plan. In fact, when she arrived at NC State two and a half years ago, she couldn’t have imagined herself at the helm of an idea that would challenge the traditions of dance.
All of that changed when she enrolled in EMA 370: Practical Arts Entrepreneurship and was tasked with developing a feasibility study for a business she was interested in starting. Matthews, an English major in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, remembers sitting in front of her computer, stumped.
An email from her professor, Dr. Gary Beckman, asking about her past-due proposal forced her to consider her personal experience in the arts. Inspiration struck when she thought about the foot and ankle pain she still suffers from as a result of her 14 years as a dancer.
“Dance is an art, but it’s also physical,” she explains. “People forget that [a dancer’s] body is strained just like an athlete’s, especially the ankles.”
Matthews set out to solve this problem that has plagued dancers for so long, but it wasn’t easy. Because dancers have to maintain an aesthetic element during performance, cumbersome bandages or tape were not a possibility.
When she decided that ankle support needed to be integrated into dancewear, her company, Soutenu Tights, was born. She chose the ballet term soutenu because of its meaning—supported or sustained—in French. The tights have the same feel as a regular pair, and do not limit the dancer’s range of motion.
When she pitched the idea to Dr. Beckman, he responded with the words brilliant and incredible.
“It was the first time I’d received such positive feedback from a professor, and I got really excited,” she remembers.
Calling Dr. Beckman her biggest supporter and advocate, Matthews not only completed a successful feasibility study for her EMA 370 class, but also placed third and received the Judges’ Choice award in the Lulu eGames’ Arts Feasibility Study Challenge. She used her winnings from the competition to cover a provisional patent, which she wrote herself, for Soutenu Tights.
Currently, samples of her tights are being manufactured in the western part of the state, and she plans to begin beta testing once they arrive. She’s also working on other new product designs in the Entrepreneurs Garage. Matthews feels that this is just the type of innovational product the dance community needs.
“I never considered any of this before taking Dr. Beckman’s class,” she says. “Attending NC State is the best choice I ever made; otherwise I wouldn’t be starting a business.”
By Megan Greer.
This article originally appeared on the NC State Entrepreneurship Initiative news site.