Entrepreneur Profile: 99Degrees Custom
Sandbox Entrepreneur is looking to manufacture the next American Industrial Revolution!
Brenna Nan Schneider has worked all around the world in manufacturing, economic development, and women’s empowerment. She first came to the Merrimack Valley to work for an apparel manufacturing company that empowered single moms. “While, I was there, I really fell in love with the region,” says Brenna. “It’s an exciting place because this is where the American Industrial Revolution began. Innovation is in the DNA of these cities!”
At the time, Brenna was exposed to me-commerce (the customization of all kinds of products we consume online). She saw the growth potential of this industry and thought of starting a custom build-to-order apparel manufacturing company. “I saw the rise of me-commerce and realized its unique opportunity for US manufacturing. The real inspiration for me, however, lies in the challenge of using this market opportunity to build a business that offers the kind of employment we need in post-industrial cities like Lawrence and Lowell.” Brenna would give her workers transferable skills that would allow them to work in the advanced manufacturing sector in few years’ time, and be able to earn wages that could pay $50,000-80,000 per year. She decided to call her company 99Degrees Custom. “At this point, it was just an idea,” says Brenna. “I heard about the Sandbox Winter Accelerator Program and thought that a regional accelerator could help me turn a promising idea into a business ready for launch.”
Between December 2012 to February 2013, Brenna and eleven other finalists took part in this program that featured intensive workshops, personal mentors, and the opportunity to win a part of a $25K prize pool in seed capital. At the end of the twelve weeks, Brenna was chosen as the top winner of the Accelerator. She was given $7,500 in seed capital that helped her purchase tools, machinery, and cover the early costs of starting a manufacturing company. “The Sandbox really helped me accelerate my idea in a way that I could have never accomplished on my own.”
In April of 2013, 99Degrees Custom opened its doors at the Everett Mills in Lawrence. What was an idea just a few months back was now a running operation. Since launching, 99Degrees Custom has taken on 4 customers (including Project Repat), hired 6 employees locally, and has been featured in prominent media outlets including MSNBC & the Boston Globe.
Despite these accomplishments, Brenna has a larger goal in mind. “My long-term vision is to demonstrate a role for business in economic and social mobility and to build a competitive, profitable, and values-driven US manufacturing solution for the future of retail. I want 99Degrees Custom to manufacture the next Industrial Revolution here in Lawrence.”