SLU Tennis Player Creates Device to Improve Home Workouts on a Budget
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ST. LOUIS – A student-athlete, sent home from campus in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread, faced a dilemma – how to keep himself in shape during a lockdown?
Eliott Ekindi, a senior tennis player at Saint Louis University, didn’t want to fall behind in his training. Home at his father’s house, he contemplated building a home gym, but he was limited in space and funding. His father had weight plates, a barbell and dumbbell bars in his basement. Ekindi had an idea – the UClip.
“The UClip was invented for people like me who want a complete home gym set-up for less than $1,000 within small areas,” Ekindi said.
The French-born Ekindi was a student athlete playing tennis at Florida A&M University when the pandemic began.
“I was in Miami with friends in March of 2020,” he said. “I woke up to 20 missed calls. My whole family called to tell me I had to get ready to jump on a 10 a.m. flight the next morning.”
Ekindi packed up everything he had and finished the semester at home in France. After sending students home to complete the semester online, Florida A&M also shut down its tennis program, leaving Ekindi without a team.
He was recruited to Saint Louis University and the mechanical engineering major found a home at SLU.
Ekindi said the formation of his business came during his sophomore year. His professor, Jenna Gorlewicz, Ph.D., asked students to solve a problem they had recently for themselves. Ekindi thought about his limited workout space and drew the first version of a UClip, a 2.5-pound version of a u-shaped carabiner that would connect weights.
“When I am over in the gym at Chaifetz Arena, we have adjustable dumbbells and you can easily change between weights,” Ekindi said. “That’s what I was trying to recreate at home.”
Gorlewicz encouraged Ekindi to take his concept and try to build it out.
“We went through probably 35-40 iterations,” he said. “We did 16 or so 3D printed models. I’d never made a product before, so I had to figure out each piece of it.”
His parents, Claire D’Escayrac and Rudyard Ekindi, were both emotionally and financially supportive of the project in its early days.
“They helped a lot,” Ekindi said.
The key to the design was making the bend in the steel perfectly symmetrical so that rods could fit well within the two holes in the design. Ekindi utilized his teammates and his girlfriend – fellow SLU student Mica Lugo Romero – to try out various models.
Once the design phase was complete, Ekindi had to look for options to manufacture the UClip to bring it to market.
“I went back and forth with manufacturers because the design was too expensive and hard to make,” he said. “There are a lot of places that will take your 3D model and quote you a price.”
After finding a Chinese manufacturer, Ekindi needed to deal with U.S. distribution. A fitness company owner who tried the UClip was willing to connect Ekindi with a distribution center. That led to a better manufacturing deal. UClips came on the market last summer.
“We sold 60 units last year, and 500 so far in 2023,” Ekindi said.
UClip operates off its website and social media presence. Ekindi operates both himself, interacting with customers and developing marketing ideas. He says he manages school, work and tennis by keeping himself on schedule.
“I set alarms on my phone for everything,” he said. “Alarms when it's time to leave the apartment for campus, alarms for tennis, or to go wherever I need to go.”
After making sure he doesn’t have an assignment due the next day, his evenings are occupied with making videos, managing ads and interacting with customers.
“The biggest part of marketing is teaching people what it is and how to use it,” Ekindi said.
The UClip can assist users in the following ways:
- Repurposing weights – Loads barbells with adjustable dumbbells, bands, and chains
- Simplify calisthenics – UClip hooks dumbbells to dip belts for weighted pull-ups, dips, and belt squats.
- Hang dumbbells – Hang dumbbells to any system by loading the earthquake bar or adding weight to pulley machines.
- T bar row attachment
- Landmine attachment – Turn a horizontal bar into a landmine, adjusting the height to your convenience.
Once the business grows a bit, Ekindi hopes to hand off the marketing and advertising so he can focus on the engineering side. He said starting UClips has been an exercise in learning limits.
“You can’t do everything by yourself,” he said. “My time and energy are worth something – I created the mold and the prototype, but there are people with more experience in the finishing. I’m still in school and it was worth it to have professionals help me.”
Following his May 20 commencement from Saint Louis University, Ekindi is heading to the University of Notre Dame to work on a master’s degree in engineering and entrepreneurship. His girlfriend, Mica Lugo Romero, who will graduate with a degree in accounting from the Richard A. Chaifetz School of Business, will also head to Notre Dame for an advanced degree.