Class project turns into ‘Handy Hat’ business for UD student

UD junior Danielle Roffolo shows off her “Handy Hat,” the result of a sophomore class project that’s become a business; the hat has an inside pouch to carry small items so the wearer doesn’t have to carry a bulky purse or billfold for many events and activities.
UD junior Danielle Roffolo shows off her “Handy Hat,” the result of a sophomore class project that’s become a business; the hat has an inside pouch to carry small items so the wearer doesn’t have to carry a bulky purse or billfold for many events and activities.

Growing up in Washington Twp., Danielle Ruffolo would make up games and innovative projects.

Ruffolo was still a student at Archbishop Alter High School when she realized she wanted to have her own business some day.

“My senior year, I took a class in entrepreneurship, and, when I was offered a soccer scholarship at the University of Dayton, I looked for that program – they had one, and I decided on a double major in marketing and entrepreneurship,” said the 21-year-old U.D. junior.

As part of her college curriculum, she had to take the Sophomore Entrepreneurial Experience class last year, where students developed selected products.

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Ruffolo’s concept was a “Handy Hat,” a ball cap with an inside pocket pouch for carrying ID, money, a room key, and other small items.

“I came up with the idea because I’m active and on the run – the hat was convenient, could be worn to a game or while running, so I wouldn’t have to carry a purse. I sewed a sock into one of my baseball hats to pitch the idea.”

“About 80-90 ideas were submitted from my class, and my idea was one of those selected,” she said. “I picked my team from my classmates, and then designed the cap, found companies to make them, and did the marketing.”

Ruffolo, the daughter of Rick and Tina Ruffolo, took her prototype to Fred J Miller Inc. in Centerville to make the initial hats.

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“A company family member was my dance team coach at Alter,” she said.

Another company in Centerville does the embroidery and pocket installments.

“I selected the kangaroo as my logo, because, like a kangaroo, my Handy Hat has a discreet interior pouch,” she said.

Initially, to market the product, she and her teammates sold the hats room-to-room on campus and at U.D. events.

“When the year ended, my professor, Vince Lewis, said my idea was unique and to pursue it, so I have a patent pending, created my own company and a website, Instagram and Facebook sites,” Ruffolo said.

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She pitched an idea to admissions to give Handy Hats to undergrads, “and they made a video for the school website and gave hats to incoming freshmen in the entrepreneurial program.”

Lewis, who encouraged her to continue her project, has taught the sophomore entrepreneur class for three years.

“Danielle is unique in that we never had a business continue on, out of the micro-business class,” he said. “It’s difficult for anyone to predict which ideas will be winners and which will be losers.

“In Dani’s case, I did sense that she was on to a unique idea that may have some market opportunity, but my stronger sense was that she has the personality and drive to figure out how to make it work,” Lewis said. “That is primarily why I encouraged her to pursue her passion - I think she has a real knack for it.”

And, along with her classes and soccer, she has pursued her business.

“It’s a lot to juggle, but it’s something I’m passionate about and would like to see it expand to other colleges and become a line for a company or clothing brand,” she said.

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She’s already been approached by the U.D. alumni, the campus bookstore and outside groups. “I’ll take custom orders, too, for other schools, family reunions, anything with bulk orders,” Ruffolo said.

“There’s an amazing support system in the Dayton community, and I plan to run with this idea as long and as far as possible,” she said. “I definitely have other ideas that are still in the works, and want to add to my business and expand – it would be so cool if I didn’t have to look for a job when I graduate, but have my own business established.”

To check out Ruffolo's current Handy Hat line, readers can go to myhandyhats.com, her Facebook page Handy Hats, or Instagram @handyhats. The video created by U.D. can be viewed at https://www.facebook.com/univofdayton/videos/10155146008490778/.

Contact this writer at virgburroughs@gmail.com