When he was only 14 years old, Yianni Feldman ’23 already knew he wanted to be an inventor. For fun, he would watch “Shark Tank” with his mom and browse innovation websites. He wanted to create a new product, something that would add a twist to a common household item, so he sat down at his desk and started sketching ideas.
He soon came up with Ponchella, an umbrella with a hollow handle that stores a disposable rain poncho. “So many times, you go out in the rain and an umbrella just isn’t good enough,” Feldman says.
Not every teenage boy has much use for an umbrella. For some, pulling up a hood or donning a baseball cap might be good enough. But, Feldman, a self-proclaimed “city kid” who grew up in New York City, could see a clear need for an umbrella that contained an emergency poncho. All around him were couples dressed to the nines for a date, people attending the theater. “Maybe you’re wearing a nice suit, a nice dress, and wind is blowing rain from the side,” Feldman says. Ponchella, as his website states, “provides full-coverage protection.”
With his idea for Ponchella sketched out, he worked with Rite Aid Pharmacy to develop a prototype and then went on to patent it. “I’ve always been an entrepreneur, and I’ve always had a creative mindset,” he says. “I wasn’t going to stop there. I knew I wanted to go to the next level, and I wasn’t going to stop until I had the product in my hand.”
Bringing His Concept to Babson
Feldman knew he wanted to study business after high school. So, at age 16, patent in hand, he enrolled in the Babson Summer Study for High School Students program after his junior year.
“I was motivated to get myself out there,” he says, “so, I met with the head professor of the Summer Study, who introduced me to Cindy Marmer MBA’02,” associate director of the John E. and Alice L. Butler Launch Pad. Marmer invited him to a graduate event where students were pitching their companies to angel investors. “It was an amazing opportunity for me and was what helped me get to where I am today.”
“I always had a creative mindset, and I always knew this is exactly what I want to do, and this is what I love.”
Yianni Feldman ’23
After securing funding, through Rite Aid Pharmacy Feldman found two factories in China that produce weather products to manufacture Ponchella. Then, he had to find the right market. It would be easy to sell through a website, but he soon discovered that “people don’t buy umbrellas online. So, it was a question of getting it into the right spaces and the right markets and bringing the unique product to them.”
Feldman got so much out of Summer Study that he was prompted to apply and enroll in Babson, bringing his fledgling company with him. Now a junior, Feldman says, “Babson has helped me because I have met with many professors and faculty at the school who have tried to help guide me on how to help bring my company to new industries.”
Eye on the Future
Some of the new industries he is eyeing are sports franchises, including the National Basketball Association, and Disney, for potential licensing opportunities. So far, he has worked with Steep Rock Association, CWG, Pedini, Colony Hardware, his high school, and investment banks and charities, to brand Ponchella with company logos and colors.
Feldman found that people often get their umbrellas through events (high school and college reunions), charity giveaways (as a thank you gift recognizing a donation). and as gifts. He has sold about 5,000 Ponchellas, mostly through B2B marketing, though it also is available on his website and Amazon.
He also has used his product for good. During the start of the pandemic in 2020 when many institutions were experiencing supply shortages, he donated 10,000 ponchos that could be used as gowns to hospitals in New York City.
Now, Feldman is developing an umbrella for dogs. It will be called Poochella and will feature the same hollowed-out handle, but rather than a poncho it will store plastic doggie bags—an especially important feature for dog owners in cities.
Growing up in the city where backyards are few and far between, “I know that whether it’s raining out or the temperature is below zero, you have to go out and walk your dog,” Feldman says. “And, you have to make sure you bring a waste bag.”
Feldman has been in talks with Babson faculty members and the alumni association about future ways to innovate and advance his company, and says he has enjoyed the process. “I always had a creative mindset,” Feldman says, “and I always knew this is exactly what I want to do, and this is what I love.”