Entrepreneurial GVSU grad finds success with cold-weather masks

Twelve months ago, being in the “mask industry” was a niche business field. Now, Jordan Vanderham has found it easy to pitch wearing and buying masks to potential clients.

“It’s been helpful to have the social acceptance of having something on your face,” says Vanderham, founder of Orindi Gear.

Orindi produces cold-weather masks that help filter air safely for workers in below-freezing temperatures, such as cold-weather storage and outdoor construction.

Vanderham founded Orindi in 2016, while he was a student at Grand Valley State University. 

Pitching the product

Being a founder and entrepreneur wasn’t new for Vanderham. While he was a student at West Ottawa High School, he founded Vandergen, an organization that taught elementary students about renewable resources. Add being a member of the band, theater, and Science Olympiad, and Vanderham has been building his presentation and entrepreneurship skills from a young age.
While at Grand Valley, Jordan Vanderham developed a mask that makes it easier to breathe while working or playing in below-freezing air.
After developing his initial proof of concept mask at GVSU, he started participating in collegiate entrepreneurship pitch competitions across the Midwest, including events hosted by Grand Rapids-based incubator Start Garden. But Vanderham still didn’t expect to own a business after graduation.

“It was never my direct intention,” says Vanderham. “It was just continual effort through pitch competitions, building validation.”

Something larger

His first indicator of Orindi being something larger than a side gig was at a pitch competition when a judge came up to him after his presentation. The judge said he thought Vanderham was going to be a “mute engineer” but that, after listening to the Orindi pitch, he knew Vanderham was the figurehead of the company. 

“That was a really cool validation that I can hopefully transition from being the nerd of a company to being the CEO or at least a sales-level individual.”

The second indicator came during his senior year at GVSU, after he received a full-time offer from an engineering firm where he interned. He turned down the offer surprisingly fast and decided to commit full time to Orindi. 

Grateful for mentors

After five years of Orindi as a viable company, Vanderham says the highs and lows of entrepreneurship can become a burden. Because he is primarily working solo, he has days where being motivated can be challenging. He says you have to give yourself grace in an entrepreneurial role. That’s why Vanderham is appreciative and committed to the mentors and supporters in his career. One resource he tapped was Lakeshore Advantage's SURGE Boostcamp, a 16-week program that helps entrepreneurs validate their startup business ideas.

While at Grand Valley, Jordan Vanderham developed a mask that makes it easier to breathe while working or playing in below-freezing air. "Lakeshore Advantage has provided us a network of mentors to turn to when we stumble and seek insight. These mentors have already passed through the stage where we are and guide us in the right direction," Vanderham said. "The other startups that Lakeshore Advantage supports have become colleagues we can grow with and a community as launching a company is not an easy ride. They have also educated us directly through the SURGE Boostcamp program. I couldn't learn this information in college so understanding the foundational skills of validating an idea has given us the confidence to push Orindi forward."

Mentors have been key to his success. 

“I have a lot of mentors, and those are the people that keep me on track,” he says. “From faith to relationships, to the company, to tasks.” 

Even though the pandemic has made it easier for Vanderham to sell his product, Orindi has faced its challenges. Last spring, at the height of the pandemic, he was unable to sell his product because most clients and potential clients had been closed. But he saw the need for mask production and joined forces with local health and manufacturing organizations to produce 70,000 face shields. 

Staying motivated

What keeps Vanderham motivated to keep pushing Orindi’s vision of solving the simple problem of breathing cold air is his personal struggle with breathing. As a child, Vanderham had cold-induced asthma and was forced to stay inside and fear the cold air. 

“It’s to help little Jordan when he was growing up, and there’s a problem to be solved,” he said of his company’s purpose.

Vanderham hopes that Orindi will one day expand past industrial use to help scale to other sectors where cold air-breathing is an issue. He continues to lean on the supportive West Michigan community and hopes that his journey will help inspire other up-and-coming entrepreneurs. 

“Do good work, be good to people, and eventually you’re rewarded or people come back to you for support,” he says. 

Visit Orindi Gear’s website to learn more about their products and purpose, or connect with Jordan Vanderham at jordan@orindigear.com.

Read more articles by Luke Ferris.

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