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Clarendon resident launches portable airplane seat cup holder

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that highlights Arlington-based startups, founders, and local tech news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

Clarendon resident Seth LaPierre still can’t quite believe he is the first person to patent a cup holder for airplane seats.

“It’s the next PopSocket, but for travel,” he said, referencing the ergonomic grip that sticks to phone cases. “It’s so simple.”

LaPierre has developed, patented and trademarked the “Sip n’ Clip” — a cup holder that clips into tray tables. He came up with the idea on a flight to Paris when his wife was trying to find a place to store her large coffee so it wouldn’t spill on the floor or get squished by the backseat pouch.

“I was thinking about it while we were in Paris,” he tells ARLnow. “There’s gotta be something that exists. I searched around and couldn’t find anything.”

That was 2017. The last five years have been “quite the journey” for LaPierre, who is preparing to launch his signature “Sip n’ Clip” product next year to catch the wave of people resuming travel.

“Things take much longer than you expect,” he said. “It was my first journey in actually developing and manufacturing a product and bringing it to market.”

The Sip n’ Clip (courtesy photo)

He assembled his own 3D printer and taught himself how to use it in order to develop a prototype, which took 10 tries. The final product was too flimsy, so taught himself resin casting to create something more durable. He researched and drove to numerous factories east of the Mississippi until he found one with which he wanted to work. He learned how to write a patent and register a trademark.

“If you’re trying to create something, no one is going to pop up and help you,” he said. “Roll up your sleeves and get it done.”

LaPierre, who worked in the promotional products industry for a few years, took advantage of work flights and trade shows to conduct market research. About 20% of people he talked to said they don’t buy drinks before they fly because of the storage issue. At trade shows, people said they were tired of free T-shirts, water bottles and fidget spinners, and felt bad they would get thrown away after little use. Meanwhile, companies still wanted low-budget products on which to advertise.

“I found challenges around sustainability and utility,” he said. “I just kept hearing, ‘We need something new and innovative.'”

The pandemic hit right when he wanted to go to market, which, in retrospect, gave him a few extra months to tweak the product and create a social impact strategy.

LaPierre cut out extraneous plastic, which made the product more sustainable and gave it a secondary use as a phone holder. He also decided to donate 25% of profits from promotional sales to community-nominated nonprofits. Inspired by his wife and daughter, these nonprofits focus on security, empowerment and equality for women and girls.

“A lot of millenials, Gen Zers and digital natives want a purpose-driven product,” he said. “I wanted to weave that in with the promotional side of the business.”

Seth LaPierre with his invention and patents (courtesy photo)

He says today’s iteration of the Sip n’ Clip ticks a lot of boxes. It can increase drink sales at airports, it can spark conversations at trade shows and it can put promotional messages in front a group of bored people with nothing to look at but the view from 10,000 feet and their phones.

“It’s an innovative way to connect brands with people in this captive audience,” he said. “If you think about how many people are getting back into the air, there’s no way to market to them.”

The product will be available on Amazon in the next month or so, he says. He recently wrapped up a Kickstarter campaign and next, he’ll run an IndieGoGo campaign. His goal it to get into coffee shops and hotels.

He joked he earned a four-year college degree in product design through this process.

“Now, I have to get a master’s in marketing,” he said.

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