Inventory management can be a daunting chore and the bane of small business owners. With customers burying or misplacing products, workers unnecessarily pulling from back stock, and the persistent battle of keeping shelves full, inventory becomes a time-consuming task that leaves “enjoyable” far from reach. Thanks to the invention of St. Olaf College student Anthony Valiulis ’19, it’s about to get easier for business owners.
Valiulis, a psychology and economics major, is filling the need for merchandise display innovations in the retail industry with his new company DaVinci Industries.
Founded in October 2016, DaVinci Industries aims to provide retail stores with dynamic merchandise display systems. The company’s first product, Acutrack, is a replacement for scan hooks that provides a substantial R.O.I., labor reduction, and inventory tracking system.
Every time an item is pulled from an Acutrack hook, the remaining merchandise is pulled forward, automatically facing the storefront. The second generation of this product will provide an electronic feature that allows retailers to monitor each Acutrack unit through radio frequency identification communications. With this feature, Acutrack will be the first and only display product on the market to provide retailers with a storefront electronic inventory solution.
Valiulis won the Ole Cup, an annual student entrepreneurial competition at St. Olaf, last spring and has been tirelessly building his company ever since. Now DaVinci is one of 25 finalists in the Schulze Entrepreneurship Challenge, a three-day competition hosted by Best Buy founder Richard Schulze where one team will win $75,000.
“To be an entrepreneur, you don’t need to be the smartest person around. You just need to be the person with the most ambition and be able to out work anyone else.”
Valiulis and his team will pitch Acutrack to three judges in Minneapolis April 12–14.
“The Ole Cup has really taken my company to the next level because now I know there are people out there who believe in this product,” says Valiulis. “The recognition I now get from people in Northfield and across Minnesota is what I think will really make our product successful.”
On top of his entrepreneurial work, Valiulis is involved in the St. Olaf Mock Trial and Model UN teams, works with the Volunteer Network, and is a marketing intern for a chiropractor agency in Northfield.
In many ways, his work on DaVinci Industries is in his blood — he comes from a family of entrepreneurs dating back to his great grandfather.
“My dad was an entrepreneur, my grandpa was an entrepreneur, even my great grandpa was an entrepreneur,” Valiulis says.
Valiulis first learned about St. Olaf — and the Ole Cup — at a “Colleges That Change Lives” fair in Chicago. “Colleges That Change Lives,” an organization based on a book by former New York Times education editor and journalist Lauren Pope, is dedicated to “building the knowledge, character, and values of young people by introducing them to a personalized and transformative collegiate experience.” St. Olaf is one of the original colleges featured in Pope’s book.
“What really got me interested in St. Olaf was how the book describes how the education here helps students become well-rounded individuals, and because I saw the amazing resources the Piper Center for Vocation and Career has to offer,” Valiulis says. “I also saw how St. Olaf offers a chance for entrepreneurial people to pitch their ideas to the Ole Cup. I love pitching ideas, so I thought that some day if I went to St. Olaf I would do that.”
Working around-the-clock to build his business, Valiulis has learned the importance of self-discipline and hard work.
“To be an entrepreneur, you don’t need to be the smartest person around,” Valiulis says. “You just need to be the person with the most ambition and be able to out work anyone else — and, most importantly, you need to be able to get others to believe in your idea.”