By Tom Still, Madison.com
The Wingman” is taking off. That’s the name for the sleek, technology-enhanced life vest created by a Milwaukee-area startup company, Hyde, that won the 2016 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.
Seven months after winning the annual contest, Hyde is selling its first ultra-thin vests through advance orders and aiming to make a splash in the larger paddle-sports retail market as the year rolls on.
“The customer reaction has been overwhelmingly positive so far,” said Pat Hughes, who co-founded Hyde with Mike Fox in 2013. “We’ve fulfilled all of our back orders.”
That translates to hundreds of vests sold so far in places such as Australia, Europe, Brazil and the Caribbean, as well as the United States and Canada. Designed primarily for kayakers, stand-up paddleboats and anglers, the vest also appeals to kite-boarders and surfers due to its thin design.
Users can pull a ripcord to puncture a small carbon-dioxide canister, causing the gas to inflate a built-in bladder that makes the vest buoyant.
Part of what kept Hyde afloat was its performance in the business plan contest, which is open for entries for its 14th year through 5 p.m. Jan. 31 at www.govsbizplancontest.com.