During her first few years playing lacrosse, Taylor Ryan, 14, didn't give her all. She held back. Mostly, she said, she was worried about getting hit — especially in the breast area.

The Manhattan Beach resident said she figured out to be the best in your sport, you're going to get hit. But whereas men can wear athletic cups, no similar protection existed for women — until Ryan decided to change that.

"I didn't think that was fair because I want to do the best I could without being afraid of getting injured; that's when I thought of the product," Ryan said.

So, the Mira Costa freshman designed her own brand of protective sports gear for women called Unstoppable Protective Gear. They're cups that women can insert into their sports bras.

Ryan has been interested in entrepreneurship since early childhood, she added, always coming up with creative solutions to problems, but really wanted to be a businessperson when she realized she could take charge instead of letting other people make decisions for her. 

She's had the sports cups for women idea for five years, said Ryan, but when she discovered the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce’s chapter of the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, she took her work to the next level. YEA is a year-long class in which middle and high school students learn to become confident entrepreneurs with the help of local business mentors.

“It was life changing,” Ryan said of the program. “Our first idea was to do a sports bra with it, but then we realized it'd be a lot more simple and cost effective for us and for the buyers if we did a cup they could just slip into their sports bra," Ryan said.

“We didn't do much with that,” she added, “And once we found this program it was a complete launch into it.”

In developing a name for the cups, YEA mentors said to Ryan "When naming a product, you're basically branding it, so what do you want your product to represent?"

"I knew that when playing sports girls worry about getting hit in the breast so they don't go to their full aggression or don't play as much as they can, so I want my product to make girls feel like they were unstoppable on the field," Ryan said.

Local judges from Manhattan Beach’s chapter of YEA chose Ryan to move on to the virtual national YEA Saunders Scholars Competition, in which she will compete on Saturday, Oct. 17 against 35 other youth-run businesses around the country. The young entrepreneurs can win more than $80,000 in cash and college scholarships.  

Ryan also has the opportunity to win the competition’s people’s choice award, for which people in the broader community can text in their votes, said Kelly Stroman, president and CEO of the Manhattan Beach Chamber. 

Although its something that many of her teammates said they would use, Ryan said she has gotten mixed reactions to her product.

"Some people, including women, were like 'oh let's not talk about that right now,' which was interesting," Ryan said. "There were moments where I've been like 'maybe this product won't work, maybe people won't like it,' and I notice some people actually get uncomfortable at the idea of talking about breast protection, but I found that there will always be people who relate to you and want to use your product." 

The avoidance of conversation about such a creation is probably why there are no existing products like Ryan’s, she added. In her research she found only one other company that makes a relatively cup shaped hard piece of plastic that doesn't fit properly — it's uncomfortable just to wear, not even getting hit, Ryan said.

At a local sports store, Ryan said, she found a whole aisle of protective gear, but all of it was made for men.  

"We want to change that," she said, "We knew there needed to be a better solution." 

Ryan's cups have a hard outside to take the impact, she said, and a soft inside for comfort.

The new skills Ryan gained from YEA are impacting all aspects of her life, she said, having more confidence during school presentations and public speaking overall.

Her father, Chris Ryan, said the program has allowed her to look at broader pictures than most 14-year-olds do.

“Taylor has become incredibly comfortable in settings with professional adults, asking questions, really being an attentive listener and taking their advice to further her product, her development," Chris Ryan said, "After talking to CEOs of companies it's very easy to have a conversation with a school teacher or coach.” 

Taylor Ryan has a patent pending, she said, which she applied for in early the summer. Next she's going to a manufacturer, feeling product samples and will start cranking out the gear. 

“She and her family are taking this all the way,” Stroman said.

Although a bit nervous about pitching during the competition, "No matter what comes out of this I've had amazing experiences and gotten so much help from YEA," Taylor Ryan said. "I’ve learned a lot about the whole process of starting a business and gotten a lot of connections just from YEA; I'm incredibly grateful."

The live pitches will be streamed at 9 am PST Saturday, Oct. 17 on the Young Entrepreneurs Academy Youtube page.

Applications for the YEA class of 2021 are open at https://www.manhattanbeachchamber.com/yea until early next week. 

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