Engineering a successful business

Two Smeal graduates credit engineering class for entrepreneurial leadership skills, inspiration


By Tessa M. Woodring

NEW YORK — Ryan Laverty and Sal Campisi, two 2016 Penn State Smeal College of Business graduates, said they were concerned that alcoholic beverages often lacked nutritional information or ingredients lists. Equipped with skills from an entrepreneurial leadership course they took in the Penn State College of Engineering, they had the motivation and know-how to tackle this lack of transparency and create their own alcoholic beverage company, one which values premium ingredients and honesty above all else.

The two took what they learned from ENGR 310 Entrepreneurial Leadership — a course housed in the College of Engineering’s School of Engineering Design, Technology, and Professional Programs (SEDTAPP) — and founded VIDE, a New York-based company that produces canned, carbonated vodka drinks made from high-quality, simple ingredients.

Campisi and Laverty credit the SEDTAPP course and Frank Koe, teaching professor of engineering entrepreneurship, for providing them with the skills and inspiration to create their brand.

“I do wish we took more engineering classes while we were at school, but our interest in entrepreneurship — from an academic standpoint — only sparked toward the end of our education at Penn State,” Laverty said. “Needless to say, one class with an inspiring teacher was all it took.”

Entrepreneurship Leadership (ENGR 310) focuses on introducing students to the principles and practices of entrepreneurship, techpreneurship and entrepreneurial leadership. The course takes students through the entire process of starting a business, from ideation to market entry.

“The course emphasizes the personal nature of entrepreneurship, how to mitigate risk and deal with uncertainty as well as how to deal with success, not just failure,” Koe said. “A key component is to help students determine when an idea may very well be an opportunity.”

While part of this course, Campisi and Laverty said they fully embraced these concepts, and continue to use the skills they learned.

“I still remember in Frank’s class we were tasked with coming up with a product and a business plan,” Laverty said. “To this day, Sal and I still follow many of the practices Frank taught us: product sampling, surveying customers, creating business plans, design, trial and error. These are all things that revolve around starting your own business. Had we not been introduced to these things, I’m not so sure we would have been able to ‘take the leap.’”

Koe saw the potential in Campisi and Laverty and knew from the start that they both possessed the mindset to create something together.

“They were prepared to act if and when a good idea came along,” Koe said. “Not all students are able to internalize what entrepreneurship is all about, but Ryan and Sal quickly grasped many of the components and placed them into practice when their idea came into view.”

After Campisi and Laverty graduated from Penn State, they moved to New York City. Laverty worked at a mutual fund company, and Campisi worked for his family’s electrical contracting and real estate company. About two and a half years after graduating, they both quit their jobs to start VIDE.

Although leaving behind prosperous career opportunities and job security was a challenge for both Campisi and Laverty, they knew they had made the right choice.

“Opting to leave corporate America is a daunting task,” Laverty said. “Society tells you it’s not the right choice. For some, it may be a stressful time, but for those who know what they want to do, like Sal and I, we never looked back.”

Their desire to create a product that filled a void in the alcohol industry, along with support from family and friends, helped move their vision forward, they said. But, creating VIDE came with some challenges for Campisi and Laverty. Adjusting to a flexible, self-made daily schedule, learning the already well-developed alcohol industry, and raising money were all major obstacles they had to overcome.

“An entrepreneur’s very essence is being uncomfortable,” said Campisi. “Learning how to work through that and make yourself professional every day is what gave us the drive to keep going and pursue our dream. That’s what motivated us to create a brand, a product and a business and make it into something great.”

Since starting their business, Campisi and Laverty have been featured in numerous publications, including Entrepreneur Mindset Magazine, Chilled Magazine, Bevnet Magazine and Elucid Magazine.

VIDE recently announced a distribution agreement with Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits — the country’s largest wine and spirits distributor — which expanded their distribution across the state of New York. Laverty and Campisi also plan to expand their distribution beyond New York in the near future.

During the 2019 fall semester, Koe invited Campisi and Laverty to come back to Penn State to speak to current students in the very same class that inspired them. Knowing how encouraging Penn State alumni can be to students, Koe knew the two would bring a strong message to his class.

“For students to hear from contemporaries makes entrepreneurial lessons relevant,” Koe said. “For students to experience firsthand start-up stories from individuals who were sitting where they are now a short time ago is motivating for them.”

Campisi and Laverty spoke to students in Koe’s class about the challenges and successes of their business and how important it is to follow your passions.

“Unfortunately, so many kids after college are programmed to just stay in corporate America forever, even if it’s not their dream,” said Campisi. “We want to change that stigma. We wanted to come back and inspire students to do what makes them happy. That’s what’s important. If we can convince one student to do that, it makes it all worth it.”


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Megan Lakatos

two men standing on a New York City street

Ryan Laverty and Sal Campisi, two 2016 Penn State Smeal College of Business graduates, founded VIDE, an alcoholic beverage company that values premium ingredients and honesty above all else. IMAGE: SAL CAMPISI