If necessity is the mother of invention, extreme discomfort might be the mother of necessity, as Cornell Alumnus Arthur Chang discovered during a return flight from the Dominican Republic back in 2001. After jostling for armrest position yet again, he conceived an idea of a contraption that would provide much needed comfort to a cramped airline seat. He set the idea aside, though, as he entered into the competitive industry of hospitality consulting with Jim Coyle’s (’87) prestigious firm Coyle Hospitality Group; meanwhile, his wife and fellow Cornell Alumnus, Grace, earned her masters degree in architecture and began working in design.
Arthur & Grace Chang
The airline comfort idea never fully died, though, and in 2011 the Changs decided to bring their brainchild to life. Thanks to Arthur’s vision and Grace’s background in design, they created a sleek, lightweight, attachable armrest divider that successfully ends the fight for armrest space, allowing both sides to share equally. The couple searched for ways to bring it to market, but struggled to interest vendors in their design.
Fortunately, they belong to an innovative network of people who share their entrepreneurial spirit: The Cornell Hotel Society. Arthur and Grace began to consult with old friends and fellow Cornell Alumni, who offered valuable insight into the Changs’ branding and marketing strategy. The Changs engaged with Hotelie Kira Kohrherr (’01), who helped with the company’s rebranding; with a new name and a strategic marketing campaign, Soarigami quickly took off.
Deeply impressed, the television marketing experts at Will It Launch brought Soarigami to “As Seen On TV,” and the Changs’ savvy invention began to revolutionize the travel industry as it received international acclaim and became the “product to have,” according to publications such as Conde Nast Traveler, Fast Company, CNN, Gizmodo, The Atlantic, and over 400 others in 50 countries.
Thankful not only for the success of their invention but for the instrumental advice and support from their fellow Cornell alumni, the Changs were inspired to give back during Entrepreneurship@Cornell’s Annual Celebration Conference. As Arthur put it, “We were blown away by all the students who have ideas to disrupt industry and change the world. Our idea feels so small compared to these students’ (ideas).” Thus, Arthur and Grace led the way in creating the “Launch your Idea!” consumer product competition.
This competition, made possible by a deal that the Changs brokered between Entrepreneurship@Cornell and Will it Launch, will look for the next big “it” idea among Cornell students and alumni and will connect the winner directly to both funding and to the people who can bring it to market. The Changs’ biggest regret is not going to their CHS network sooner, so they are thrilled at the chance to help others by smoothing the way for fellow Cornell students and alumni.
Arthur and Grace are taking all that they’ve learned from their entrepreneurial adventure and leveraging it into the start-up world. Most significantly, they remember that this sense of community and belonging comes full circle: connected every step of the way to their fellow Hotelies, they received support to become an international success, and now will influence those who follow in their rather impressive footsteps.