Vision Quest

By Alison Damast | Spring 2014

Printer Friendly

The quest for the perfect pair of eyeglasses has haunted Konrad
Billetz (MBA ’12) ever since he was accidently shot in the eye with a BB gun at the age of 11. He didn’t go blind, but the incident left him dependendent on eyeglasses for the rest of his life.

Like many people, he was frustrated with the static way glasses are made, balking at having to buy a new lens every time he wanted to switch up his frames.

“You can switch up your shoes, purse and accessories very easily,” said Billetz, 27, who studied biochemistry in college and worked in sales before attending business school. “But the one thing that is the first thing people see—your glasses—you can’t change.”

It wasn’t until he became an MBA student concentrating in entrepreneurship at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business that he decided to do something about it. With the help of the university’s Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship, he developed Frameri, a company that will allow people to change up their frames inexpensively using what Billetz says is the world’s first interchangeable lens-and-frame system.

Billetz first tossed around the idea for the company during the second year of his MBA program, during which he shadowed angel investors and venture capitalists in Washington, D.C., including Jim Hunt (BBA, MARK ’73), a Notre Dame alum and an angel investor. He ran some of his ideas by Hunt, who was intrigued by Billetz’s interchangeable system concept and urged him to pursue it.

That was all the encouragement Billetz needed. As soon as he got back to campus, he sought out the guidance of Michael Elwell, an industrial design professor who helped him design early prototypes of the company’s signature system. Billetz also took full advantage of the resources offered him by the Gigot Center, securing incubator office space at Innovation Park at Notre Dame, and entering the school’s prestigious McCloskey Business Plan Competition, which saw 148 teams compete last year.

His tenacity impressed Karen Slaggert, the Gigot Center’s associate director, who worked closely with Billetz during his time as an MBA student.

“Konrad was all over the place, reaching out to everyone and anybody in the Notre Dame network who could steer him in the right direction,” Slaggert said. “He is the poster child for the Notre Dame ecosystem and how to utilize it to help propel your venture forward.”

Billetz and his team did not win the grand prize, but the company won one of two runner-up prizes in the competition, and managed to secure more than $20,000 in cash prizes, snagging the Best Pitch, Best Presentation and Best-Written Student Business Plan awards, among others.

The Gigot Center also helped connect Billetz to Brandery, a seed stage startup accelerator in Cincinnati, Ohio, that receives 700 applications for its 10 startup slots. Frameri made the cut, and Billetz and his team headed to Ohio after graduating from Mendoza last May, where they spent the next four months working on their company and creating a branding strategy.

Brandery gave Frameri $20,000 in seed capital and office space, and connected him with mentors including Adam Weber, the chief managing officer of The Dollar Shave Club and Mark Hasebroock, the founder of the Dundee Venture Capital firm.

The accelerator also linked Billetz up with The Launch Werks, a product and industrial design firm in Cincinnati that helped Frameri develop their signature high-end lenses.

The company’s frames are handmade in Italy, have German components and feature scratch-resistant and polycarbonate and high-index lenses. Customers can select from six different lens shapes and a wide variety of frames in different colors; a single pair of frames and prescription lens will cost around $125, and additional frames will cost about $100 each, Billetz said.

The time at Brandery allowed the Frameri team to hone its product line so that it would appeal to the company’s target audience: “trend-setting” men and women between 18 and 35 who are active in the digital and e-commerce world, Billetz said.

If the company’s recent campaign on the online crowdfundraising platform Indiegogo is any indication, Frameri has hit a chord with the eyeglass-wearing community. It managed to sell $64,000 worth of eyeglasses in 30 days on Indiegogo in September, to people in the U.S., Korea, Australia, Europe and South America, Billetz said. Frameri’s first run of glasses will be released in early 2014. 

The next step for the company? Securing enough seed funding in upcoming months to produce more glasses, obtain office space in Chicago, and recruit additional employees. The company currently has three full-time employees. Billetz has spent time on the road, pitching to potential investors in Chicago, New York and Cincinnati.

Billetz’s ultimate goal? That Frameri will revolutionize the eyeglass industry.

“It’s just one of those things that everyone knows needs to be changed,” Billetz said. “We’re just the first ones to go out and do it.”