When Missy Kelly enrolled at CU in 1990, she thought that law school and a career as an attorney were on her eventual path, but life had very different plans. After Kelly graduated from CU Boulder with a double major in Political Science and International Affairs, she pursued a highly successful career in business. Today, she is the owner and co-founder of CatTongue Grips, a major company dedicated to improving safety and enhancing quality of life for millions of people through their non-slip products. In May of 2022, she spoke to a packed house of more than 1,000 attendees as our department’s graduation ceremony speaker.
Soon after graduating in 1994, Kelly took a job at a Fortune 500 company. The job paid well and provided room for growth, but the monotony of the big business world left Kelly wanting something more fulfilling and impactful. Eventually, an opportunity emerged, almost by accident. One day in 2015, Kelly’s husband Matt was upgrading his phone and noticed how easily the phone could slip from his hand. Instead of paying extra for phone insurance, he stopped by a local skate shop and bought some grip tape—the abrasive, sandpaper-like material that gives skateboarders the traction they need to stay firmly planted on their boards. It was an imperfect solution, and Missy Kelly was initially skeptical: “What do you have going on here? This feels like a cat tongue, and it’s going to scratch every surface in our house.” But she quickly realized that they were on to something big.
Eighteen months and eight prototypes later, the CatTongue phone grip launched as an Amazon exclusive. Textured enough to provide suitable hold but smooth enough to avoid scratching and discomfort, CatTongue grips were a hit. Since then, the couple has transformed their patented material into eight different product types and over 200 design iterations, including the popular Gription Roll which can be easily customized to add grip to any surface. These products are now being sold through major retailers across the country and the world. And if that weren’t enough, CatTongue products have even gone to outer space, as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have used them in their space-based ventures.
For many people with disabilities, CatTongue grips have made a lasting impact. Wheelchair users can use CatTongue products to keep their feet stable on the footplates of their chairs and to prevent laptops and other technologies from falling out of their grasp. People with motor disorders such as Parkinson’s Disease can get a better handle on forks and spoons, some even regaining the independence to be able to feed themselves.
Going into entrepreneurship rather than law was an unexpected turn for Kelly, but she still believes that her studies as a political science major gave her the tools to think outside the box and to find such a fulfilling career. The papers, exams, research, and debates that Kelly wrote and engaged in during her years at CU set her up to change the world.