Startup CUCU takes home $25,000 prize

(Courtesy of CUCU)

(Courtesy of CUCU)

A team of Ryerson graduates is bringing its credit-card customization idea to market after winning $25,000 in the Slaight New Venture competition last week.

Their startup, CUCU, offers a patented sticker design that allows people to customize their debit and credit cards that won over the judges, beating two other finalists.

“We went in there with patents ready to go, pretty much ready for market,” said Kunal Arneja, co-founder and chief of operations at CUCU and a 2015 graduate from Ryerson’s business management program.

“We also gave all of the judges skins that matched the companies they worked for,” Arneja said, which included superhero and entrepreneurship-themed skins. “That really drove the point home that we can work with brands.”

The idea for CUCU, pronounced kookoo and a symbol of how “crazy customizable” the skins are, came about when Arneja and co-founders Nathaniel Bagnell and Deepak Kanda were trying to come up with an idea for their capstone course project.

(Courtesy of CUCU)

(Courtesy of CUCU)

“We all had our wallets out on the table, and we saw these cards peeking out, and they were just dull, boring colours so we did the initial drawings,” Arneja said. They took the drawings to one of Arneja’s friends who owns a vinyl shop and prototyped for a few weeks, coming up with the now-patented sticker design.

They spent six months re-engineering the design to find the perfect material that wouldn’t stretch or bubble when applied.  The material also had to be removable without  leaving adhesive on the card.

“Chipotle downtown’s payment machines are extremely old, and they have the swiping feature so our skin did not fit in there for the longest time,” Arneja said. “And that was kind of our benchmark, because we enjoy eating there every time we’re working downtown.”

In January, everything came together — the design fits into Chipotle’s machines, has air pockets in the vinyl so it won’t bubble, people can apply it by just peeling off the backing and sticking it on a card and the skin can be removed and applied to another card within six months with no issues.

Arneja credits the founders’ diverse skill sets for the company’s win.

Bagnell took on the role of CUCU’s tech officer and handles corporate sales and writing. Kanda has an eye for design and is in charge of branding and marketing and Arneja takes care of operations.

“Between us three, we all manage our own parts of the business. No one really overlaps and steps on each other’s toes,” Said Arneja.

He said the $25,000 will go toward development. Since the skins are so small, everything has to be carefully measured and laser cut so they fit perfectly on the cards.

They plan to put a lot of work into  giving users the ability to upload their own artwork to turn into skins. They’re also looking at working with prominent designers, which Arneja says will help increase brand loyalty and establish CUCU as a design community.

After CUCU gains some traction from sales, the team plans to generate their own material from scratch. They’re working to obtain corporate contracts so they can work with professional sports teams and artists including Drake and J. Cole.

“Pretty much everyone we show it to is blown away every time we pay for stuff, and if it connects with them – like, they’re Drake fans and we’ve got the OVO design – they just connect with it and they want it,” Arneja said.

CUCU’s online store is set to open in about two weeks and the skins are priced at $6.49.

They’re also hoping to move into promotional merchandise, working with companies worldwide to create branded skins.

“When you put it on and if they get the design right, the amount of visibility they get from having our product is incredible — every cashier, every time they open their wallet, every time they’re out with their friends paying at the bar,” said Arneja.

“We really see CUCU in the future as being a global brand, known for its high quality promotional merchandise. We want to cover the 1.2 billion cards in North America.”

Business graduate Madlen Cumandra also won top prize for her startup, Artin Biomed, a patented material that mimics the human bone and can be used during bone graft surgery.

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