Joseph Zinno, a rising senior in mechanical engineering, has spent the past two years nurturing his business venture, Rooted Designs. “My business is rooted in the communities I am a part of, and I wanted that to be a focal point of both the name and logo of my business.” Rooted Designs sells engraved Villanova keychains, magnets and coasters and 20% of every sale goes to a Villanova charity chosen by the customer.
The business started as a creative outlet, but Joe says he soon saw the potential for a product line. “It reminded me of a business I started when I was young called The Stand.” Living right behind his town’s football stadium, he began selling parking for football games, which evolved into selling candy, hotdogs and Perler beads tchotchkes. As The Stand grew, Joe began designing football jerseys in team colors, as well as logo magnets. He says, “It ended up becoming a really big thing. We would take custom orders and 25% of all sales went to charity.”
During his sophomore year at Villanova, Joe decided to approach University President Rev. Peter Donohue, OSA, PhD, with his ideas and some of his first products. “He ended up loving them and asked to keep a bunch of things,” he says proudly. Then, Joe started his Engineering Entrepreneurship minor. “I learned a lot of these skills in the classroom, and it has been amazing to apply them practically to my venture.” After his encouraging meeting with Fr. Peter, Joe connected with the Athletics department, the Mechanical Engineering department, and Villanova’s Institute for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship (ICE).
Through ICE’s Innovation Fund, Joe received grant money to launch Rooted Designs. He was later awarded a grant for the startup phase, which led to the purchase of his laser engraver. He explains, “Laser cutting is a cool technology, but it’s also a very underappreciated form of technology.” Laser engraving is less common than similar technologies like 3D printing, and Zinno wants to explore all the possibilities as his product line advances.
Recently, Joe has expanded the nature of his business, which has led to acquiring Villanova logo licensing and business insurance. With expansion, other business expenses have begun to accrue. He notes, “Costs like maintenance on the laser engraver and insurance are incurred before selling a single product.” Despite the challenges, however, Joe encourages other entrepreneurial students in his position to stick with it when things become difficult. “I recommend reflecting on why you’re doing what you’re doing. If you’re in it for the right reasons and there’s a market for what you’re producing eventually you will sell product; it will work.” He believes this is ultimately an invaluable experience about backend business, which provides an opportunity to give back to charities and organizations he’s passionate about.
In the next year, Joe hopes to do a lot more fundraising while branching out to additional organizations within the Villanova community. For a week in the fall, Rooted Designs will work in conjunction with Special Olympics to sell keychains and magnets for a higher percentage of donations. Joe also recently started a project with the Office of the President’s Board of Trustees to provide coasters as an appreciation gift, and he has initiated conversations with social media accounts like @novainsider and @novanation in the hopes of connecting his business to the Villanova community to build awareness and help with their mission.
Lastly, Joe shares that the Villanova Engineering Service Learning program is one of his charity partners. Customers can choose to donate 20% of their purchase of Rooted Designs’ products to help support Villanova Engineering students while they participate in these life changing experiences. Visit the Rooted Designs website to learn more.