Young inventor navigates the rocky road to market

Stephen Squillante, a Providence College junior, will debut his Teecil (below), a combination golf tee and pencil, at the upcoming National Golf Expo in Boston. Stephen Squillante, a Providence College junior, will debut his Teecil (below), a combination golf tee and pencil, at the upcoming National Golf Expo in Boston. (Gretchen Ertl for The Boston Globe)
By Calvin Hennick
Globe Correspondent / February 28, 2011

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It’s just a sliver of wood with a piece of graphite at the tip — two ancient technologies joined in one little gizmo. It was invented by a college student named Stephen Squillante, who is learning that it can take as much work to bring a product to market as it took to invent it.

Squillante, 21, a junior at Providence College in Rhode Island, is the inventor of the Teecil — a golf tee with a pencil tip. After more than a year of filing paperwork, conducting market research, and building prototypes in his parents’ garage, he will debut the item on Friday at the National Golf Expo in Boston.

“It’s been crazy, all the stuff you have to do,’’ said Squillante, a Weymouth native. “I never would have thought of it. You get your patents, your trademarks, and you think that’s enough. But then you have to build a website. Every step I do, there’s just more and more.’’

Squillante has found himself establishing a Facebook fan page for his product, creating a Twitter account, obtaining e-mail addresses for his new company, and creating a logo. “It’s just a lot of little things that you don’t think of, but they’re very time-consuming once you get going,’’ he said.

Squillante came up with the idea for the Teecil while golfing with his dad about four years ago. “I would put my tee in one ear, and my pencil in the other ear,’’ said his father, also named Stephen Squillante. “I’d grab the wrong thing, and it would just drive him crazy. One day, he said, ‘Dad, I’ve got an idea.’ ’’

“It’s simplicity,’’ the younger Squillante said; with his invention, “if you reach into your pocket for your pencil or your tee, you’re always going to pull out both.’’

Squillante, a business major, said he began to take the idea of turning his idea into a start-up company seriously last year, when a professor encouraged him to patent the Teecil. He gave up much of his summer to build 2,000 prototypes, cutting the tips off regulation golf tees, drilling holes into them, hammering pencil graphite into the holes, and then sticking the tee into a pencil sharpener.

He then handed out the samples to players at golf courses for field tests.

But making his samples “took ages,’’ Squillante said. “I broke a ton. You hit it wrong with the hammer, and it would just snap. I threw out a pretty good number of tees, just trying to get to that 2,000 mark. Every time I broke a piece of lead, I went nuts.’’

“It was wild,’’ his father recalled. “He got graphite all over my table. He could sit down for six hours at a time.’’

Squillante’s former girlfriend, Emily Murray, said he was often too busy making Teecils to hang out with friends.

“He always told me, ‘No, I’ve really got to work on this,’ ’’ Murray said.

“I’ve seen him stay in on weekends,’’ said Nick Mammano, Squillante’s roommate. “I think the dedication is definitely there.’’

When Squillante first gave his product to golfers to test, many didn’t know quite what to make of it, he said. People weren’t used to breaking their golf pencils on their tee-offs, Squillante said, and they didn’t immediately understand that — as with regular golf tees — they could just grab another one.

Squillante eventually found an investor who helped pay to have 100,000 Teecils fabricated by a manufacturer. He will give some of them away at the golf show, and he plans to sell the rest online — at prices comparable to those of regular golf tees.

But that’s not the limit; he’s looking toward the Boston show to present new opportunities.

“I’m hoping at the show a big distributor will look at it and say, ‘I want to put this into stores,’ ’’ Squillante said.

Even if the product doesn’t take off, the process of launching a business has been a valuable part of his education, Squillante said.

“A lot of the things we’re doing [in college classes], I’ve actually already done, like getting trademarks,’’ he said. “So it won’t be a complete waste of time if nothing comes out of it.’’

And if it works out, “I’ll be the happiest guy alive,’’ Squillante added. “And if it doesn’t work out, I’ll be the happiest guy alive, too, because I know I gave it a shot.’’

Calvin Hennick can be reached at