There were some memorable moments at the 2023 NEXT Venture Summit that were more memorable than others. If you were in the room, you would definitely remember Ric Hoke, Founder of WAVS Custom, walking on stage with his guitar and a song. To follow up his incredible performance, he then tossed WAVS t-shirts to the crowd. A stand-out for many reasons, WAVS was one of the 10 Most Exciting Startups in the Region featured at the yearly event. And his presentation proved why.
WAVS Custom creates handmade, custom-fit earphones right here in Greenville, SC. Musicians are big fans of WAVS’ patented mobile 3D scanning technology and music provided a unique and fun way to showcase his product on stage.
Music actually led to Ric’s “lightbulb moment” prompting him to create his patented technology and product. Ric was part of the NEXT Accelerator cohort 1 so NEXT had a front-row seat as he built his pitch. When we asked Ric what it was that “clicked” for him when it comes to pitching on stage his immediate reply was: “[Founders] have to be comfortable telling the truth of their story. Don’t avoid the hard stuff, the struggles, or the emotional.” It’s hard to get feedback especially when your business is so personal. It’s easy to be self-protective but it’s best to lean into the emotional connection.
Ric’s story starts with his grandparents, both of whom had dementia. Experiencing that with his family deeply impacted Ric from a young age. A lifelong music lover and musician he tried to pair that love with serving those impacted by this disease in multiple ways but it wasn’t until he was serving Alzheimer’s patients through music therapy that he had what he calls his “lightbulb moment.” Ric openly features Dave, an Alzheimer’s patient, as part of his story – he’s integral even if there isn’t a happy ending. Ric was only able to connect with Dave through music. And it was difficult when the earbuds were constantly falling out of Dave’s ears! BAM! Lightbulb. Unfortunately, Dave passed away before Ric was able to make him his very own custom-made WAVS but Ric was able to honor him by playing at his funeral.
What an incredibly powerful story. Maybe it is sad, and part of it – talking about disease and hardship and dying – can be uncomfortable but Ric truly believes you have to embrace the heart of your story to make true impact. Dave, and his grandparents, are what drive Ric day in and day out to stay in the grind that is building a company.
“If your heart’s not in it, you’re not going to succeed. People without heart aren’t going to have the energy and they’re not going to believe strongly in what they’re doing. The only way through it is by focusing our energy on what makes us happy and what helps someone else. Any of the companies that have made it and sustained, they have solved a problem that truly helped someone’s pain. Those are the companies that stick around.” We think WAVS is going to stick around.
Ric found the NEXT Accelerator to be incredibly helpful and perfectly timed for where his company was in early 2023. They were trying to raise money and just received an SCRA grant. WAVS was ripe to scale and Ric focused in. “Every one of the speakers – they were at the top of their level and they know what we’re going through because they’ve been in that situation. You’re only going to get what you put into it [the Accelerator]. You have got to reach out and talk to the speakers and the organizers. Reach out to the resources that are available to you.”
We asked Ric for his best advice for early-stage founders: “Get scrappy, bro! Especially if you’re trying to raise a family. Ideas typically come later in life when you’re educated and connecting the dots so you often have a family to support. Learn how to utilize every resource that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. Learn how to build it yourself first so you understand the cost. Don’t overpay for something you can watch YouTube to figure out. There are more resources than ever to be scrappy to get to the funding round.”
WAVS just closed its first round of funding and SCRA’s investment affiliate, SC Launch Inc., just announced an investment in WAVS Custom. Looks like being scrappy has paid off.