TU student builds hobby into niche business

Monday, January 28, 2013

Hobby inspires Johnson to launch carpentry project

What started as a hobby for University of Tulsa graduate student Callen Johnson has turned into a small business that is already attracting buyers. Johnson, a physics major from Omaha, Neb., has begun building his own brand of gaming tables.

A self-proclaimed video gamer “nerd” since high school, Johnson said he considers gaming a social enabler that encourages human interaction. His products range from large tables ideal for interactive video gaming and board games to simple dice trays for traditional board games.

Callen Johnson“I learned woodworking while helping in my grandfather’s shop as a child,” Johnson said. “My grandfather had a passion for carpentry. I never knew the skills I learned in his shop back then would apply to what I’m doing today.”

Johnson received more than $2,000 in financial support less than a week after recently posting his gaming table proposal on kickstarter.com. The website is a funding platform for creative projects related to films, games, design, technology and more. Johnson said comparable gaming tables can cost up to $1,800, but his basic tables with the same functions are about $500.

“My price is based on the cost of materials and my time,” he said. “I really love gaming, so I enjoy making these tables.”

Johnson’s endeavor on kickstarter.com began with a few challenges. His first attempt at funding failed when only a few supporters pledged to invest without ever seeing product samples or demonstrations. When Johnson tried again, he reduced his goal and contacted his original backers.

“I plan to buy all of the basic tools I need with funding from my supporters,” Johnson said.

This time, his project idea took off, and he met his goal in less than a week. With adequate funding, Johnson said he plans to convert his garage into a workshop over the next few months and begin filling orders. His online financial backers pledged their support in exchange for product, resulting in around 20 various projects he will complete this summer.

Johnson said the gaming table project will remain a hobby as he continues to pursue a career in neurophysics. He currently interns at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research where he studies functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a non-invasive technique used to measure activity by identifying areas of blood flow in the brain.

Gail Banzet