Senior year isn’t the end of the design process for a group of Engineering graduates.
After creating for their senior design project a pair of glasses that keeps the wearer awake, 2013 Engineering graduates Jason Gui, Jonathan Kern and Drew Karabinos decided to make their design into a real business product: a Bluetooth headset called Vigo which detects whether its wearer is awake and alert. The three graduates plan to launch Vigo on Kickstarter next week.
The development of their business began in one of the electronic capitals of the world — Shenzhen, China.
“We talked to different people and realized some people are not used to wearing glasses,” Gui, who is also a Wharton graduate, said. “Our technology requires it to be around the eyes, so we turned towards headsets.”
Kern said that his team spent 80 percent of its time in China making the core of Vigo as small as a thumb drive, so that “down the road we can customize the solution to any form people prefer.”
After graduation, the project was selected by HAXLR8R, a hardware incubator, and was provided with $50,000 of funding, industrial mentorships, equipment and supplier networks in China.
The team said their experience in Shenzhen was like “a crash course in entrepreneurship.”
“It’s a really unique and exciting opportunity to go somewhere like China, to be in factories and to work in the heart of one of the electronic capitals in the world, where you can really get your hands dirty in the part of how to develop your product,” Kern said.
As a startup with a low budget, they also enjoyed the faster speed of prototyping and cheaper manufacturing costs than they would have had in the United States.
“It’s really easy to buy components there: we can just go across the street, rather than having to buy it online and wait for a few days for it to arrive in the U.S.,” Gui said. “It’s much faster for building a prototype.”
Kern added that they had access to “huge electronic markets right under our office and [were] able to order parts and receive them either the same day or early the next day.”
The team said it was also a great management experience, as they learned a lot from their partnership with a South Korean design company and their experience recruiting and managing staff whose “average age is 10 years older than [ours].”
Two weeks ago, the team members returned to San Francisco for a demo day, where they pitched their idea to media and investors as part of the end of the HAXLR8R program. They are still in the process of contacting potential customers and media outlets in order to spread the word about Vigo.
“We are going use this initial consumer product that we have to find out what features are the best and what we can improve more,” Karabinos said. “After that, we will try to find some enterprise options” — such as taxi, truck and security guard companies — “that really can use the product and develop customized solutions for them.”
The team initially didn’t expect to carry on their senior design project until senior spring.
“We all were just excited about the momentum that our project gained towards the end of Senior Design,” Karabinos said. “Everything lined up when we graduated, and it’s really a chance that none of us wanted to pass up.”
“I think this is what entrepreneurship is about,” Gui said. “Sometimes [people] start a company for the sake of it, but sometimes the opportunity came to you, and then it’s a great time to go with it.”
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