When Mark LaCasse ’83 was making bread with his wife almost 25 years ago, he became frustrated with measuring spoons not fitting the lids of the spice bottles and creating a mess.
As co-inventor of the pineapple slicer, Mark had an idea: create a device that portions your spices straight from the bottle without measuring spoons. He crafted an initial prototype, but didn’t expand the product from there.
But several years ago, Mark was inspired to take up the project once again. He applied for and received a U.S. patent for his spice-lid which allows consumers to directly measure out one-fourth and one-half teaspoon servings from spice bottles. However, he was about to retire and decided not to invest more money and risk into his invention.
It was not until Mark’s daughter, Erika LaCasse ’19, chose to graduate a semester early in December 2019 that CassCaps truly came to fruition. Erika had always been passionate about entrepreneurship throughout her time at Cornell, and wanted to apply the skills she learned in college to the entrepreneurial world before entering the workforce in October.
“When I was talking to my dad about the idea of graduating early, he said, ‘You can’t just start a business from scratch and launch it in several months,’” Erika said. “But he suggested, ‘What if we try to bring back our caps?’ And that’s kind of how we came up with the idea of working together on CassCaps.”
Prior to graduating, Erika reached out to Felix Litvinsky, Managing Director of BlackStone Launchpad at Cornell — an experiential University-wide learning program. Litvinsky introduced Erika to several startup resources, ultimately encouraging her to participate in the W.E. Cornell Program and the REV Ithaca’s Prototype to Production 60-week accelerator, a program designed to lead product teams in cultivating their hardware startups.
The W.E. Cornell Program gave Erika access to a cohort of about 30 other female student entrepreneurs. The program led her through customer discovery, allowing Erika to interview 80 customers and perform a market validation.
“The W.E. Cornell Program was a really great way to learn about entrepreneurship, learn about the different steps in starting a business, and have a cohort to brainstorm and bounce ideas off,” Erika said.
In the REV Ithaca’s Prototype to Production Accelerator, Erika works in a cohort of eight teams. Erika and her father meet with the cohort twice per month, where they participate in workshops focused on the manufacturing process.
“They have 3D printing and laser cutting capabilities,” Erika said. “They’re actually the ones who introduced me to a couple of manufacturers. I did manufacturing and assembly visits with them … they’ve just helped in all of these different facets of business.”
While Erika and her father launched their Kickstarter campaign Aug. 4 and succeeded in bringing CassCaps to market, the path to production has not been simple.
“I think a big challenge has been working on a tight timeline … we’ve had a couple of delays in product development where we needed to contract an engineer to help us with the physical design of the product,” Erika said. The pandemic has exacerbated this issue as manufacturing companies stopped producing nonessential items.
In the future, Erika and her father hope to expand CassCaps to fit bulk-sized spice jars and measures in larger increments.
“We have all sorts of ideas of other products that we would want to launch in a similar fashion of making measuring in the kitchen easier,” Erika said.
Ultimately, Erika wants to partner with spice companies like Penzeys and Morton & Bassett — whose spice bottles CassCaps is compatible with — or license the product and sell the patent to these larger distributors.
Even though she only became recently involved in entrepreneurship , Erika encouraged students to utilize Cornell’s resources.
“Don’t be afraid to explore and reach out to people who have done something entrepreneurial. That’s the best way for you to learn whether this is the lifestyle for you,” Erika said. “Definitely leverage all of the Cornell resources as soon as possible.”