SLCKR, the alumni-owned barber clothing startup, is growing with help from Invent Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania — Penn State College of Engineering alumnus Tyler Tracy developed a passion for haircuts during his senior year of high school and continued cutting hair throughout college. However, he constantly struggled to keep his tools organized.

“With men’s haircuts, in particular, you go back and forth with a lot of tools, so I would have a lot of clutter to build,” Tracy said. “I started thinking that if I had a system where every tool had a place to live, it would really help me with organization.”

Around the same time, Tracy also began to become familiar with the barbershop social media scene, where he noticed a huge overlap in the industry with an interest in fashion.

“All barber tools are very basic, and a lot of things haven’t changed in a long time,” Tracy said. “So I decided, let’s take the most frequently used tools and give them a place to live, and make that place something rooted in designer fashion.”

Tracy launched elevated barber garment startup SLCKR in January 2021 alongside co-founder and Penn State alumnus Ben Johnson. Their flagship product, The Rig, allows barbers to keep a neat and organized station by storing their most frequently used tools close to their chest with a fashionable portable platform.

Tracy and Johnson met during their sophomore and senior year at Penn State, respectively. Johnson, an economics student at the College of the Liberal Arts and passionate about business, knew there was something special about the hairstyling industry.

“I grew up going to barbershops and spent a lot of my youth talking with barbers,” Johnson said. “When Tyler mentioned different ideas from others, I knew he was someone I wanted to work with.”

Johnson was working in business development during his freshman year in college when Tracy approached him with the brainchild of The Rig.

Two years later, SLCKR ended 2022 with over $140,000 in sales, which they achieved while Tracy worked part-time and Johnson worked full-time. They also have over 1,000 Rig users in 13 countries.

Tracy began developing her business idea through her Business Management course with Jeanette Miller as part of her minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ENTI) at Penn State. Miller, associate director of the Farrell Center for Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship, encouraged him to apply to Invent Penn State’s Summer Founders program, which offers startups with at least one Penn State student founder a $15,000 grant to work about their startup, social good, or nonprofit idea over the summer.

“Summer Founders was great for us,” Johnson said. “The advisors gave us a good framework on how to look at our long-term goals and then break them down into achievable steps from week-to-week and month-to-month. They were also great to bounce ideas around, as they are all very experienced founders themselves.

Applications for the 2023 Founders Summer Program will open on February 6.

Tracy added that the $15,000 stipend makes this initial jump much less risky for college startups. He said that without needing an internship or a summer job to cover the cost of living, they could focus full-time on what it was like to get into their business.

“Part of the goal of the Summer Founders program is to ‘pour gasoline on the fires’ of student startups,” said Ben Nason, idea catalyst at Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank. “It’s amazing how $15,000, in the hands of motivated, hard-working students, can really improve a business.”

This year, in an effort to make their products more accessible in major barber markets, the Rig will be available for purchase overseas in the UK, Canada and Puerto Rico.

SLCKR will continue to offer new color options for The Rig and will begin selling additional wearable accessories, including a hair repellent shop t-shirt, to expand its customer base. The team hopes to move to a new studio in Philadelphia where they can create content for their website and social media channels, develop new products and test the waters for a physical outlet.

“My advice to Penn State students looking to start a business is to start,” Tracy said. “It’s easy to have a good idea, it’s harder to follow it up. In six months, we were able to secure $20,000 in funding to work on our business idea as college students – crazy. Get started literally and talk to the people you have access to because Penn State has an amazing ecosystem for entrepreneurship.

Tyler and Ben said students interested in connecting can contact them at

About the Founders Summer Program

The Summer Founders Program is a flagship program of the Invent Penn State initiative and is offered in partnership with Happy Valley LaunchBox powered by PNC Bank. Seed funding is made possible through donations from successful former entrepreneurs interested in supporting new student ventures. To learn more about supporting Penn State student startups through a philanthropic gift, contact Heather Winfield, Director of University Development Strategic Initiatives, at

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