While most Penn students are worrying about midterms and essays, a group of Penn students recently sold their startup for an undisclosed amount to an e-commerce company. ThirdEye Technologies created a mobile app that assists blind and visually impaired users by reading aloud descriptions of objects and converting pictures of text to speech.
The idea was born in September 2014, when the four then-freshmen participated in the PennApps hackathon. After only a month at Penn, these students were able to place in the top 10 of the hackathon with ThirdEye, a concept that originally was intended to be an add-on to Google Glass.
“College is one of the best places to startup,” CEO and Engineering and Wharton junior Rajat Bhageria said. “There’s no risk, there’s no opportunity cost ... there’s just a lot of resources.”
From that first hackathon, the company has become more successful and developed a brand presence.
“In the visually impaired community, ThirdEye is a strong brand,” Bhageria said.
The company is being purchased by TheBlindGuide LLC, a company that develops technologies for the visually impaired.
“We’re selling all the assets, we’re selling the users, the partnerships we’ve developed,” Bhageria said. “It’s really hard to market to the visually impaired community.”
The students involved with ThirdEye said that Penn was an important resource for the company.
“Penn helped in a lot of ways. Penn has a lot of great resources for entrepreneurs,” team member and Engineering junior Benjamin Sandler said. Sandler does not actively work in the company anymore, but has an equity stake. “The fact that we could say we were Penn students made people take us more seriously.”
Sandler cited Penn Law Legal Clinic, the Wharton Venture Initiation Program, and the Wharton Business Plan Competition as resources that played a part in the development of the app. Even so, the members said that creating a startup while still attending university had its own challenges.
“We were not going to drop out of college to start a company full time,” Sandler said.
Bhageria echoed these statements and said it was odd to be working with organizations such as the National Federation of the Blind or Google while still attending university. Bhageria added that creating, being the CEO, then selling a start-up has shown him that “if you do interesting things, you become interesting.”
“ThirdEye has kind of defined my Penn experience.” Bhageria said. “For me, it’s insanely crazy to work on a product that can significantly make the lives of a group of people better.”
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