Hyde’s slim life jackets win Governor’s Business Plan Contest

The idea behind Pat Hughes’ slimmer life jacket came when someone drowned at his first triathlon.

Hughes, whose company, Hyde, won the Governor’s Business Plan Contest yesterday, decided to make a thinner life jacket that people can inflate during emergencies.

“I was incredibly saddened by how tragic it was and how preventable it all seemed,” Hughes said.

The life jacket is called the Wingman; it has a CO2 cartridge that people can pull with a cord, which inflates the vest and gets someone’s head above the water. The reusable jacket will cost around $225, Hughes said.

It looks to replace the bulkier life jackets or the “awkward-fitting” inflatable ones that “no one likes” when doing any other water sports.

“No one had taken a look at this product line in decades,” Hughes said. “We thought it was time for someone to breathe a little life into this and a little innovation.”

It wasn’t an easy process, as it required testing and approval from the U.S. Coast Guard, which Hughes said took around eight months.

Hughes and his co-founder, Michael Fox, have a contract with a manufacturer that’s producing the pre-orders Hyde got when they launched a Kickstarter campaign last fall. They plan to open up for more customers once those pre-orders are shipped in the next few weeks.

The two had moved down to St. Louis after winning a grant that allowed them to build their startup there for a year. But when their lease was running out there — and with no product on the market yet — they decided to return to the Milwaukee area.

And now, Hughes said, they’re “excited to grow this company here.”

— By Polo Rocha,