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Incubator Product Series: Meet Turf Sock
Jessica Fiddes

The Delbarton Incubator is back in action this year in the Science Pavilion Makerspace.

The course is a popular senior elective in the Delbarton curriculum and led by Computer Science Department Chairperson Dave Martin, whose department offers everything to Digital Skills and Robotics for 7th graders to Data Structures and Algorithms for 12th graders (see the Delbarton School Curriculum Guide here). The Entrepreneurial Studies course, aka Delbarton Incubator, is a full-credit course, a hands-on, self-directed class offering students an opportunity to demonstrate creativity and problem-solving skills.

Working in teams of three or four, our young men develop a product and, in theory, bring it to market. Teams work independently, yet with guidance and oversight from Martin who has an impressive understanding of materials and tools. The boys conceptualize and build – sometimes using our 3D printer -- then market their unique problem-solving product.  By May, each team is expected to have a working prototype, a deck (basically a visual business plan), a website and other supportive marketing strategies like a website and a presence on social media.  

Throughout the year, Martin invites successful alumni entrepreneurs to consult with our student teams, offering educated observations and advice. The course culminates with the Incubator EXPO in the FAC where teams pitch their ideas to students, faculty, parents, and alumni. Expo competition can be fierce (this is Delbarton, after all) so learning how to compose and deliver a compelling quick pitch is another key component of the learning process.

This year Martin is guiding four Incubator classes that include twenty-two product development teams, and all are currently in-process with their products. On November 8, we dropped in on one class to see how several teams were doing after two months of work. This is the first in our 2023-2024 Incubator Product Profiles.

First up is Turf Sock, a wrap-around hybrid product that protects athletic cleats from clogging with artificial turf’s tiny black rubber crumbs made from ground-up rubber tires. Their logo is simple, their tag line: Keep Your Feet Sweet.

Athletes who practice and compete on turf often experience an uncomfortably bumpy feeling underfoot as  those rubber crumbs accumulate and clog their cleats. Until now, the solution was knocking the cleats against a hard surface, or even removing and banging them against each other. All agree that loosening those tiny black crumbs can be downright annoying.

Turf Sock, developed by the team of Jack Amato '24, Jack Ancri '24, Charles Grippo '24 and Dallas Hurley '24, to the rescue. After identifying the problem they wanted to solve, one that each has experienced as a Green Wave athlete, they employed trial and error, using athletic socks and sports arm bands, to design their Turf Sock solution.

The first step -- and it’s a big one -- was learning how to sew, and the boys (and their mothers) agree that adding this basic life skill is a positive by-product of the Incubator experience. Very quickly they discovered that hand-sewing produces relatively weak stitches. Next, they upgraded their equipment by borrowing and learning how to operate a sister’s sewing machine. Note: the hot pink nail polish accident did not occur at Delbarton.

The team experimented with different stitch styles to achieve the stretchiness they needed to pull the sock’s spandex band over the cleat sole to lock Turf Sock in place. The day we visited they were strategizing ways to strengthen the cleat connection, considering metal grommets to protect the fabric where it hooks onto the cleat.

The Turf Sock team also conducted interviews and small focus groups to assess what fellow athletes are looking for in an anti-cleat-clog sock, and the boys have an Instagram site too (@theturfsock) with over one hundred followers where they posted this image of their working prototype...

A quick google search reveals that while some companies sell turf socks, their products are designed for the cool factor and offer no anti-clogging functionality. To date, no one has solved the crumb clogging problem. Could there be a design patent in in Turf Sock team's future? We look forward to further breaking news on this innovative product. 

Stay tuned as we continue to roll out this year’s Incubator Product Series. Upcoming products include Dock Lock (a mooring device that reduces docking anxiety), The Dripper (a product that protects hands from melting ice cream cones), Backseat Sleep (for quality automotive backseat napping) and SipSulator (keep your mobile coffee cold or hot).