Innovator Spotlight – Cyrus Schenck
March 03, 2020
Innovator Spotlight – Cyrus Schenck
By: Emily Gaukstern
Cyrus Schenck is the local founder of Renoun, a company focused on producing revolutionary skis composed of innovate technology. Renoun utilizes an award-winning technology that is used by no other ski manufacturer in the world, as a result of his forward-thinking business strategy and patent protection. Cyrus has always been a big-thinker with outside of the box ideas, so it came as no surprise when he set his sights on shaking up the ski industry.
Cyrus and Renoun have patent protection focused around his award-winning technology, known in the industry as HDT (Hyper Damping Technology). HDT utilizes non-Newtonian polymers allowing Renoun skis to adapt to varying conditions instantly by becoming stiffer as you ski faster, harder, or hit ice. Non-Newtonian substances defy Newton’s Laws of Motion, allowing them to act as either a liquid or solid, depending on the circumstances. In the case of a ski, the non-Newtonian polymer acts like a shock absorber, so that the faster and harder you ski, the stiffer and more controlled the ski feels.
Not only does the innovative technology set Renoun apart from the 1,600 other skis on the market, the direct-to-customer approach is also a novel business strategy for the industry. Selling the skis directly to the customer allows Renoun to develop a relationship with their customers and react to their needs at a much faster rate. As an example, Renoun has a 100 Day Guarantee on all their skis, so if there are any issues, Renoun will take them back or swap them out overnight.
Since inception, Renoun has gone on to win the industry’s highest honor, an ISPO (International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics) gold not once, but twice, for innovation in sports technology, be written about by The New York Times, USA Today, Powder and Hemispheres magazines, and send a one-of-a-kind pair of Renoun skis to Elon Musk.
Renoun has made impressive strides in the ski industry since 2011, however there’s no end in sight for what Cyrus and the team can accomplish. Currently, Renoun holds a robust patent portfolio that has been utilized to block out competitors and leverage licensing deals. The company lives by one rule: to break them; and they have no plans to conform with the rules anytime soon. We sat down with Cyrus to learn more about Renoun and to see what he has coming down the mountain in 2020.
What pushed you to start Renoun?
Cyrus: I grew up in Vermont skiing and was studying Aeronautical Engineering at Clarkson University when I came across the non-Newtonian polymer that we now embed into every ski. Seeing what this polymer could do was a ‘lightbulb’ moment and I immediately thought of putting it in skis. The rest is history.
What has been the biggest challenge in launching a new ski brand and shaking up the industry?
Cyrus: Most brands have massive financial backing and they can spend to be on top, and not have to worry about making a profit. The funny part is they are still too scared to sell direct so they’re handcuffing themselves. We’re one of the only brands who sells direct to consumer (B2C) — it’s the future of the industry. Ski shops aren’t going away, but only the really, really good ones will remain.
Congratulations on your second time winning ISPO gold! What has the experience been like for you and how has the recognition impacted the company?
Cyrus: Thanks! It’s been really fun to see the big-time companies realizing how important this technology is. It’s not very often that something new can get the attention, especially from a smaller company. And obviously, it’s been really good for our growth this year.
What pushed you to patent Renoun’s technology vs. holding the technology as a trade secret?
Cyrus: The ski industry is 99% marketing. Once in a while something unique like this comes around. We knew we needed to make this front and center for our brand and that meant patenting it from day 1. Holding patents on this technology has allowed us to grow our business and utilize patents to create a revenue stream. Currently, multiple large ski companies have already approached us about licensing the technology.
How do you feel IP helped Renoun achieve the success you have?
Cyrus: Anybody can build skis. I can give you the phone number of 10 manufacturers right now. Physically building or designing them is no longer hard. Having our unique material and construction method patented is the sole reason we have not been copied yet. Patents have allowed us to build a fence around our ideas and our technology, as a means to block other competitors in the industry. When I talk with other companies, they joke about how jealous they are that we have something that’s actually defensible. It’s incredibly rare in this industry.
What is a lesson you have learned from working with patent attorneys?
Cyrus: Set the direction, and then step back and listen to your counsel. Ultimately, you run a company that sells something. You’re an expert in that area, and it’s probably not IP. I’ve learned to trust those around me and together we’ve been able to set a trajectory that’s worked very well for us so far.
Your dominance in ski technology is clear, have other ski manufacturers approached Renoun to license and acquire the technology?
Cyrus: They sure have! I can’t say much more than that unfortunately.
What has been the coolest moment for you personally so far in Renoun’s journey?
Cyrus: Winning the first ISPO Gold back in 2015. I was standing on stage and realized that the crowd there was the CEO’s and owners of the largest brands in the industry. Pretty cool to know we beat them from Day 1.
What is next for Renoun? Snowboards? Expanding into other industries?
Cyrus: No snowboards, yet, though we have talked to Burton about it. We actually are now working on re-working the material to work with basketball and gym floors. We just installed the first one at Penn State Altoona last month. Few other things in the works too, which I’m sure you’ll hear more about in the years to come.
What is your favorite place to ski?
Cyrus: Always depends on what I’m after and who I’m with. At the end of the day, if you’re on a mountain, you can’t go wrong.
What is your favorite après ski drink?
Cyrus: A not-quite-cold-enough PBR.