DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – While her classmates are forming their post-grad plans, University of Dayton senior Danielle Ruffolo will graduate with a full business plan.

The marketing and entrepreneurship double major recently beat out 200 teams in the Flyer Pitch competition, winning a $25,000 grand prize to invest in her startup company Handy Hats.

Ruffolo designed the baseball caps featuring a small, discreet pocket as a solution to her dilemma of finding a secure place to store money and cards.

“This was a little pain point I had as a soccer player, just running around like, ‘Where do I put my ID?'” she said.

The prototype was a sock sewed into a cap in Ruffolo’s dorm room. She further developed the idea with a team during a sophomore entrepreneurship class, and with encouragement from her professor, continued pursuing the venture after the semester.

Ruffolo patented the Handy Hats product. In the last 18 months she’s sold more than 5,000 hats and made more than $60,000 in sales, expanding the merchandise’s availability from on-campus tables to six different retailers and an online store.

“The fact that I can walk around campus now and see random people that I don’t know wearing my products; it’s the coolest thing ever,” Ruffolo said.

The $25,000 Flyer Pitch grand prize comes with other startup resources and legal guidance for the fledgling business. Ruffolo will also receive $25,000 in support from The Entrepreneurs Center through Ohio’s Entrepreneurial Services Provider program.

“Finding out that I won on Tuesday, it’s just given me that extra motivation and push [to say] this is something I want to do full time,” she said.

Ruffalo recently pitched her product during an open call for “Shark Tank” and is waiting to hear if the audition will earn her a spot on the CNBC show.

After graduation, the Dayton native hopes to invest all of her energy in the company. Her goal is to one day strike a licensing agreement with a large corporation like Nike.

“I’ve bee a full time college student and a full time athlete while I’ve been doing this,” she explained. “So now that I’m about to graduate, I’m just so excited to be able to focus soley on Handy Hats and bring it to the next level.”

You can find Handy Hats online by clicking here or at the following retailers:

  • UD Bookstore – University of Dayton campus
  • Flyer Spirit – 1200 Brown St #145, Dayton, OH 45409
  • UD Arena – 1801 S Edwin C Moses Blvd, Dayton, OH 45417
  • Monarch Market Affair – Dayton Mall, 2700 Miamisburg Centerville Rd, Suite 220
  • Little Exchange Fine Gifts – 45 Park Ave, Oakwood, OH 45419
  • Alter High School – 940 E David Rd, Kettering, OH 45429

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