Editor's note: This is an expanded excerpt from the cover story on Lopes Live Labs in the August 2021 issue of GCU Magazine. To view the digital version of the magazine, click here.
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Ralph Freso
Grand Canyon University students can do more than get valuable experience in the Lopes Live Labs. They even can start a business – and then get help with it – while on campus.
That’s what Weston Smith did in 2017 when he created Lux Longboards in his GCU residence hall room. He had grown up in a house on a dirt road in Flagstaff and never tried skateboarding until his freshman year on campus and waited until he was a sophomore to purchase his first electric longboard on a whim.
“It completely transformed how I got around campus,” he said. “I had so many students stop me and say they want one – that sparked my entrepreneurial instincts.”
So he bought more longboards and started renting them, then became one of the first tenants of Canyon Ventures when it opened in August 2019. He has continued to set up shop there since he graduated in April 2020.
Lux is a deluxe example of GCU’s col-LAB-oration.
He has engineering and marketing students working for him full time. Mechanical engineering students helped him design the boards.
He enlisted the help of a graphic design student to create the sharp-looking Lux logo.
Canyon Promotions, another GCU enterprise that’s a Lopes Live Lab, made T-shirts for him and created the design and protective skin for the bottom of his boards. He collaborates with the Lope Shop to give arriving students a look at his boards during Welcome Week activities.
Canyon Ventures plays a key role. Director Robert Vera helped Smith create a business plan and pilot programs and connect to students. Kevin Youngblood of Youngblood Works mentored him. Corey Frank, CEO of Branch 49, helped him create a call script and had his team go on the call.
Smith even has his own media team.
“I think he’s shown that you can take your education, wrap it around an idea, create a company, grow a company and create a career for yourself," said Vera, who owns two Lux Longboards and plans to buy another. “Wes has engaged the spectrum of GCU. We recently had a teachers’ camp here, and most of the people wanted to talk to Wes. They were really intrigued by what he has created.”
The key creation by Smith was the ultra-flexible battery pack that sits in a specially designed indentation in the bottom of the board. He began his business by renting boards, and what he was procuring couldn’t stand up to vibrations.
“I had to find a solution,” he said. “It’s the same battery technology found in Tesla cars. They’re dense. They have a really dense capacity for energy. They’re not much heavier, but they’re lithium ion. Teslas have thousands of those on the bottom, which creates a low center of gravity – that’s why Tesla has such good safety ratings.”
Though Smith’s longboards have four speeds up to 22 mph, he contends that they’re easier to ride than normal skateboards.
“When I thought about it at first, I thought about flipping out and falling on my back,” he said. “But on an electric longboard, you have stability. You can actually pull back the brake, or you can step on it and the board won’t move. You never have to shift your weight off the board. At all times, your feet are on the board.”
Other interesting tidbits about Smith:
- He is one of five children, and all of their first names start with “W.” His sister Willow also attended GCU.
- You invariably will find him wearing a Lux Longboards T-shirt in his work area. He owns seven of them. “If you ask my girlfriend,” he said, “she probably thinks these are the only shirts I own.”
- He did an exclusive collaboration with musician Mick Fleetwood and gave him a Lux Longboard not long after the TikTok video with Fleetwood riding a board went viral.
Smith’s many collaborations within Canyon Ventures have been even more significant.
“I think that speaks to the value of what we have here,” Vera said. “There’s a collaborative community. Wes has done a really good job of building relationships with everybody here.”
Even his education is collaborative. Starting Lux inspired Smith, a mechanical engineering technology major at GCU, to pursue an MBA.
“I had a really unique education because I was a STEM major who was dipping into the business side of things,” he said.
Students can get involved in other GCU businesses as well.
They play a key role in the operation of the campus coffee shops, GCBC, which has five student-run teams: Research and Development, Promo, Catering, Social Media and Company Culture.
They provide brainstorming, content creation, review/approvals and project management for the Student Ad Agency. And they can have input as well as learn at Canyon Promotions, which this year will offer students a new Printing Live program that includes classroom work and field trips that teach them about printing methods. Students will receive a certificate upon completion of the eight sessions.
“We believe this is a great opportunity for marketing and design students to learn more about how their designs will come to life, what limitations there could be, and show them exciting samples and real-world applications,” said Renate Spilger, Canyon Enterprise Division Manager.
Senior writer Mike Kilen contributed to this report.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].
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