Close up photograph of racks of clothing at the Duck Store

Incubating a Student's First Business

It’s a classic catch-22: For those seeking to manufacture and distribute a product of their own design, it’s difficult to get retail buyers to take the chance on the product until it is in a store. But getting a product on retail shelves requires a buyer to take a chance.

Among the many effective strategies employed to address this conundrum available to students at the University of Oregon is the Oregon Incubator Program, a one-of-its-kind joint initiative between UO Brand Management and The Duck Store—a student-run, not-for-profit retailer serving the University of Oregon with multiple locations in Eugene and Portland.

Leila Mozzaffarian graduated in 2016 with a degree in business and a double concentration in marketing and entrepreneurship. She participated in the incubator program her senior year with her product DuckFeet, which she described as a rain jacket for your shoes.

“Without the help of this program, there would be no way I could’ve started this business or taken my career to where I have today,” Mozzafarian said.

In the incubator, student-conceived, non-apparel “hard goods” using the university marks—primarily the “O”—are developed under the guidance of professional merchandise buyers and the mentorship of Brian Wright, The Duck Store’s chief merchandising officer, who also conceived of the program.

Since Mozzafarian’s graduation, the Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship has continued a strong partnership with the Duck Store’s Oregon Incubator Program, referring students across campus to the program. For the past two years, the center’s Introduction to Entrepreneurship course has teamed up with Wright and his buyers to have students in the course produce new product ideas for the Duck Store. After spending the term building a prototype and business model, students present their concepts to the Duck Store for feedback and the opportunity for admittance into the Oregon Incubator Program.

The Duck Store has no hand in manufacturing the product, but The Duck Store guides students through market analysis and product development of Ducks-themed products. Once manufactured, the products are merchandised across Duck Store locations, both in store and online.

“We’re encouraging,” Wright said, describing the process, “If they have a market, from there, we’ll say, ‘Figure out if you can get the minimums right,’” he continued, referring to the minimum order quantity, or the quantity of product that would be need to be ordered for the transaction to financially make sense to both parties.

There are almost always some incubator projects underway, Wright explained, but the pace of the program has slowed due to the pandemic.

For its part, Wright said the Oregon Incubator Program suits The Duck Store’s mission as a not-for-profit, student-run organization. It also facilitates creation of innovative university-branded products developed by students who one day just might be the next Phil Knight.

“We can be that launching pad, so they can get in somewhere else,” Wright said.

—Will Kennedy, Lundquist College Communications