U students draw on love of outdoors to build company selling wooden cases for electronics

The University Bookstores are currently selling the cases.

Kevin Groenjes, boB Feyereisen, and Benjamin VandenWymelenberg work on the design of their upcoming product, Woodchuck for Beats by Dr. Dre, on Sunday near the Southeast Como neighborhood. VandenWymelenberg and Groenjes, who are seniors at the University, create wood cases for iPhones, Macbooks, and iPads.

Kevin Groenjes, boB Feyereisen, and Benjamin VandenWymelenberg work on the design of their upcoming product, Woodchuck for Beats by Dr. Dre, on Sunday near the Southeast Como neighborhood. VandenWymelenberg and Groenjes, who are seniors at the University, create wood cases for iPhones, Macbooks, and iPads.

Molly Novak

 

Ben VandenWymelenberg spent a lot of time in the 250 acres of woods surrounding his house while growing up. Now, he’s bringing those woods to his electronic life.

Partnering with a friend, VandenWymelenberg created WOODCHUCKcase, a 2-month-old company that produces wooden cases for iPhones, iPads and MacBooks.

The idea came when VandenWymelenberg, an architecture senior at the University of Minnesota, decided it would be cool to have wood on his phone. After talking to a Minneapolis manufacturing company, his “cool idea” was becoming a reality and was on the shelves.

VandenWymelenberg worked with his friend and fellow student Kevin Groenjes, a kinesiology senior.

 “People are using these products, so why not marry the products with nature and give them something to remind them to go back to nature?” Groenjes said.

The University Bookstores began selling the cases a week ago at prices equal to or lower than other cases there, said Jim Kyle, the bookstore buying manager.

Initially Kyle was unsure about the product since he’d never seen anything like it. After more research and design on the product, however, Kyle was happy to put it into the store.

“Unlike 90 percent of other products, it’s made entirely in the United States, and it’s environmentally friendly,” Kyle said. “It has all the attributes of what I wish all products had.”

The cases were only put into the store a week ago, Kyle said, but he’s looking to get them more visibility on the website and on demonstration phones.

The cases stick to the product, peel off without any residue and since they’re made from real wood, the cases are meant to outlast the product they are on, VandenWymelenberg said.

When he got into a small motorcycle accident with his phone, the case saved it and only lost small bits of the wood.

The wood travels from local lumberyards to manufacturer Feyereisen Studios. The studio creates three types of cases: mahogany, birch and walnut. Cases can be customized with names, quotes and images, VandenWymelenberg said.

Midwest Special Services — a local company that provides jobs to more than 500 adults with physical and intellectual disabilities — packages the cases.

WOODCHUCKcase is also sold at the Mall of America and four gift stores, including one in Milwaukee.

VandenWymelenberg and Groenjes are currently working on a contract with Amazon to take the product to the national market and are hoping within the next three months to be in east Asian markets, where the idea of wood cases is popular, VandenWymelenberg said.

The two also hope to be in big-box retailers like Best Buy and Target by the holiday season.

While he hasn’t kept close track of exact numbers, VandenWymelenberg said stores have sold a couple of thousand cases since they went on the market two months ago.

WOODCHUCKcase isn’t just hoping to make cases for Apple products, though. They have considered “woodchucking” cases for Beats by Dr. Dre headphones and DROID phones.

The students also want to take the company’s mission of putting nature back into people’s lives a step further, Groenjes said. They hope to create a non-profit that sends kids and families back into nature by paying for things like day trips to parks and camps.

While VandenWymelenberg and Groenjes will keep pursuing their separate goals, they said they will keep WOODCHUCKcase running as long as possible.

 “This energy doesn’t die,” VandenWymelenberg said. “We’re going to keep working together.”