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Thursday, December 7, 2023

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Laina Gossman (Photo: Ashley Graham) Laina Gossman (Photo: Ashley Graham)

Aztec Made: Soul Insole

Laina Gossman took full advantage of the resources at SDSU to follow her dream.
By Ryan Schuler

“The experience I had at SDSU helped me become well-rounded.”

Entering San Diego State University, Laina Gossman never planned to become an entrepreneur and launch the shoe insole company, Soul Insole.

She chose to major in business primarily because she felt it was a broad topic.

“After high school, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do,” Gossman said.

It wasn’t until she got a job at a local shoe boutique to help pay for tuition that she realized she might have stepped into a career.

“My mom saw a job posting to sell shoes,” Gossman said. “I didn’t know anything about shoes.”

At the store, she continually encountered customers who suffered from foot pain. Her supervisor made custom orthotics, and Gossman soon asked if she could help. She became his apprentice, studying under his tutelage and eventually making the orthotics herself.

But that wasn't enough. Gossman realized she wanted to learn more about the bones, ligaments and tendons in the foot. She switched her major from business to kinesiology, but there was one small problem. Gossman did not want to have to choose between kinesiology and business as a major. She wanted to study both.

That's when advisors recommended the interdisciplinary studies major, a three-department major offered through SDSU’s Division of Undergraduate Studies that allows students to take classes through three different departments and assemble their own degree plan. As a third major, Gossman chose anthropology because “it was interesting.”

Interdisciplinary studies was the perfect fit for Gossman. The major allowed her to create her own curriculum that not only interested her, but also taught her to be entrepreneurial and to work toward starting her own business.

Realizing her vision

Soul Insole is known for its supportive design that effectively redistributes pressure evenly across the foot, preventing pain in the heel and forefoot. But the design did not come overnight.

It took years of experimenting with different shapes and forms, incorporating customer feedback as well as testing out her designs in SDSU professor Arnel Aguinaldo’s classroom.

The business side took equally as long to develop. After years of struggling to perfect the design with several manufacturers, Gossman almost gave up. After putting the idea aside for a year, she decided to give it another shot, this time with a renewed passion and a business plan.

Gossman scoured the internet for manufacturers that made similar products, to see if they could make something to her standard. For months, she traded phone calls, emails and samples with manufacturers before narrowing the list from 60 down to one. It’s the manufacturer she still works with today.

“It was definitely a difficult time,” Gossman said. “But I knew how much these insoles could help people. I was learning a lot. I always say it was like earning a real-life master’s degree. I learned about everything from graphic design to logo creation to packaging. I had a vision.”

Gossman also reached out to past clients, friends and family to let them know about her plan to make and sell insoles.

“I think that really helped in launching a successful Kickstarter campaign because people had known me and my projects for many years.”

Since she launched the company in April 2016, Gossman has sold more than 5,000 pairs of insoles on her website and in about 70 brick-and-mortar stores, such as shoe repair and specialty sports shops as well as in podiatrist and chiropractor offices throughout the United States.

SDSU's help

Even now as a successful entrepreneur, Gossman does not forget how SDSU helped her along her path as an entrepreneur.

When she discovered there were no biomechanics courses for undergraduates, Gossman received special permission to take graduate-level classes.

She also turned to the Lavin Entrepreneurship Center, where she ran her business plan by Bernhard Schroeder, the center’s director, who she said is full of valuable advice for entrepreneurs.

“I appreciate that SDSU didn’t force me into a box,” she said. “When I came to them and said I know what I want to do, they gave me the guidance and freedom to do it. The experience I had at SDSU helped me become well-rounded.”