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24 Hours After a Grueling Session of Pickleball, He Invented Something That Makes Most People Better at the Addictive Sport Veloz founder, president and CEO Mitch Junkins discusses the creation process behind his revolutionary paddle and shares his advice for other inventors hoping to make an overhead smash in their industry.

By Dan Bova


Did you know that April is National Pickleball Month? If you play it, chances are you did know that because pickleballers tend to become obsessed with the sport. Invented in 1965 by three dads, Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum, who were looking to keep their bored kids entertained, the sport has absolutely exploded in recent years. According to the 2024 Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) Topline Participation Report, pickleball has been the fastest-growing sport in America for three years straight, boasting 13.6 million players with no signs of slowing.

And as entrepreneurs know, where there's a lot of passion there's a lot of opportunity. From apparel to training camps to equipment, the industry is erupting with products and services that bolster the sport.

A leader in paddle innovation is Veloz. The California-based business has earned a loyal and growing customer base of both amateur and pro picklers, thanks to its signature edgeless and sweet spot-centric design. We spoke with founder, president and CEO Mitch Junkins about his company, his creative process, and his advice for other inventors/tinkerers when inspiration hits like an overhead smash.

Related: Get in the Game By Exploring the Top Pickleball Franchises for Entrepreneurs

Serving up a career in pickleball

"My career has been interesting and varied. When I was young, I started at Mattel as a toy tester and worked in the mail room. I was a pro skateboarder on the side on top of all that. Using my experience skateboarding experience, we launched Mattel Athletic Group, and I became the competition manager. I would go around the country and show kids how to wear safety equipment and we'd put on little demos in the Toys 'R' Us parking lots and do all these fun things. I was very lucky because I was exposed to a lot of really, really great minds at Mattel. I worked closely with Steve Kimmel, who was the senior lead industrial designer. That guy taught me how to do perspective drawing and taught me a ton about materials. So that kind of started this weird little fire inside me to make stuff that grew over time."

Perfect match

"In 1990, I founded The CDM Company, which is a promotional marketing company that is very involved in the production and design of physical products like Happy Meal toys or a Congo watch promotion at Taco Bell. Now, am I designing those toys? Not exactly, but I like to say that am an industrial designer creator trapped in a marketing guy's body. So I do spend a lot of time noodling and playing. And that love of tinkering with products and materials was a perfect match when I got introduced to pickleball."

Related: His Pickleball Side Hustle Rakes in Up to $5000 Per Month

Game on

"During Covid, my wife signed me up for a pickleball contest and I got absolutely slaughtered. But I was immediately smitten with the sport. We started playing and we started attending these LevelUp Pickleball camps. We became good friends with the owners, Wayne and Lisa Dollard, who are also the founders of Pickleball Magazine. So one day when we were hanging out, icing our feet because we'd been playing for eight hours, and Wayne told me that he couldn't understand why there were all these paddle companies, but no one innovated the design. He explained that every paddle made is like what they call a 'sandwich paddle' which has a layer on the top and a layer on the bottom with polypropylene in the middle, with a kind of edging holding it all together. My mind immediately started racing with ideas."

Credit: Veloz

Instant inspiration

"I decided to try to make a paddle with the same principles as an aircraft propeller blade. I would wrap the carbon fiber around it so you don't have a rim around the edge like a sandwich-style one has. It's more like a drum head with a very consistent sweet spot. In about 24 hours, I had the raw materials together, put on the HAZMAT suit and made it. I sent it to Wayne and he had his pros try it and he reported back, 'I think you're really onto something.' We then deployed our resources at CDM side on it, perfected our proprietary way of layering the paddle materials, and in about a year, I went from running a marketing company to running a marketing company and a pickleball company."

Getting the word out

"We have a direct-to-consumer business, which is probably about 30 percent of our business. And a rapidly growing retail business — we're up to around 50 stores already. Also, a lot of growth comes from having amazing ambassadors who absolutely get attached to our brand and spread the gospel at local courts and clubs. It's a high-touch demonstrable business. You need people to hold it and use it and once they do they understand how great it really is."

Why is pickleball so popular?

"Borrowing a term from the entertainment world, pickleball is 'four-quadrant.' A four-quadrant film appeals to everybody — the kids, the wife, the husband, and the grandparents will go. That's pickleball. You go to a club and there are 12-year-olds on one court and four 80-year-old men wailing away on each other. It's easy to learn, it's great exercise, and it is very sociable. There's a lot of trash-talking that goes on out there. It's just fun."

Related: 11 Sports Businesses Using Entrepreneurial Skills to Disrupt the Marketplace

Next phase of design

"There's a governing body called the USAP that is in charge of all of the sport's safety compliance and rules. One of the things they're interested in is 'quiet paddles.' There are some municipalities that are trying to ban pickleball because of the noise. The cadence of paddles and balls is kind of clacky versus what you hear when people play tennis. So all manufacturers are trying to solve that problem and we've done it. We've come up with a paddle that will considerably reduce the decibel levels, so there's more to come on that."

His advice for inventors

"I've spoken at the entrepreneurial and marketing programs at San Diego State, Loyola Marymount, and California State University Long Beach. And I always tell people that having 'the big idea' is only about 2 percent of what gets you success. The really important part of it is being able to rapidly gain distribution. You've got to have some channels to get the product out there and bring awareness to it. And getting back to that 'big idea,' before you sink your life's savings into it, do your research. Do focus groups, put prototypes in the hands of potential customers and see if you have something that interests them. And a final piece of advice, before you go out on your own, go work for a big company in the same industry. See how it works, see what the problems they encounter and how they solve them. Get paid to learn the industry inside and out, then when the time is right, strike with the product that you know is different and better than the rest."

Dan Bova

Entrepreneur Staff

VP of Special Projects

Dan Bova is the VP of Special Projects at Entrepreneur.com. He previously worked at Jimmy Kimmel Live, Maxim and Spy magazine. Check out his latest humor books for kids, including Wendell the Werewolf, Road & Track Crew's Big & Fast Cars, and The Big Little Book of Awesome Stuff.

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