UD alum Danielle Ruffolo poses with a Handy Hat – a product that she created her sophomore year. Photos courtesy of Ruffolo
A former entrepreneurship major at UD has taken a classroom idea and turned it into her own business.
During her sophomore year at UD, 2019 graduate Danielle Ruffolo created the product “Handy Hats,” which are baseball caps with a small pocket on the inside for hands-free storage.
“I wanted to come up with a product that people would actually use, and doing something a little bit different was my goal,” Ruffolo said. “As a freshman, I would always wear a lanyard, and to me, lanyards are kind of ‘dorky.’ But, I would wear it because you had to have your student ID. So I wanted to come up with a way to have it on you when you needed it.”
The pocket inside of Handy Hats can hold all kinds of everyday necessities, like keys, lip balm, cash and more. During her undergrad years at UD, Ruffolo was also a part of the women’s soccer team all four years and got some inspiration for hands-free storage from trying to keep up with her busy lifestyle.
“As someone who is really active and loves to go on runs, I figured that a baseball hat would be a great space to store those little things,” Ruffolo said. “And, hats are a ‘one size fits all’ type of thing, so it wouldn’t matter if it was a girls’ or guys’ cut.”
Entrepreneurship students all have the task of creating an idea for a product their sophomore year and pitching it to their peers in a 60-second elevator speech. From there, the top 10-12 ideas are chosen to turn into an actual microbusiness on campus.
Ruffolo said that having fellow peers who were working to sell their own products helped her learn beyond what she and her team experienced, since the project was a completely new challenge for the group of students.
“One of the things we learned was how to gain traffic,” Ruffolo said. “For example, a table in Marycrest wouldn’t get as much traffic as you would in KU. Word of mouth also became a huge asset for us. At first, I told my friends and family, and so did everyone on my team. So our network grew as our friends told their friends and so on.”
After her class ended, Ruffolo’s professor suggested that she try to keep her product going, since it was so unique.
One way she spread the word about Handy Hats even further was by offering all incoming students during her junior year who were interested in the entrepreneurship program a customized Handy Hat with their class year.
In order to use these hats as an incentive to join the program and come to UD, an advertisement video was made and posted to the UD Facebook account. Ruffolo said that from there, her network blew up even outside of her circle of friends at UD.
Now a recent college grad, Ruffolo works full time for the company Kao Brands in downtown Cincinnati as a marketing assistant. However, she hasn’t left Handy Hats behind.
With the founder herself as the sole employee, Handy Hats has grown to be sold at the UD bookstore, the Dayton Basketball Arena and six other local Dayton stores. Handy Hats can also be found on Instagram, Facebook and on its own website.
Ruffolo says that working outside of her own business has given her so many lessons to help grow her network.
“I definitely wanted to learn more about corporate America,” Ruffolo said. “It’s great to be in a brand-new city, but it’s not that far from Dayton. I can still come back to all my stores because there is a Dayton-tie to Handy Hats. But it’s a great learning experience to be at an established company and carry some of those lessons over to my own business.”