Tag Archives: startup competition

Chatting with Challenge Winners: BeeLine Reader

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BeeLine Reader (Winner of Social-E Challenge 2014)

Have you ever thought of an idea that just might work?

That’s how Nick Lum, founder and CEO of BeelineReader (Winner of Social-E Challenge 2014), came up with a way to guide your eyes while reading. Last week, I was fortunate enough to hear Nick’s story. “I had a great idea, and decided to just try it out,” he told me. By using a color gradient to guide our eyes from the end of one line of text to the beginning of another, Nick built BeelineReader to help us read more in less time.

Initially, while tossing around the idea, experts and researchers were impressed: “Oh, you must have been combining the accessory search paper from 1992 and the other paper…”

“No, I wasn’t aware of the research paper, but please, keep talking… I’d love to hear more.”

Before long, Nick’s vision became more and more real, and he learned from users that his technology was actually really helpful for people with learning disabilities or dyslexia. Although some speculators suggested that BeelineReader could “jack up the price for people who couldn’t live without it,” Nick had another vision in mind.

“My cousin and I are the equity-holders of the company, so we can decide whether we want to be solely profit-seeking or if we want to also consider the social impact of our business model.”

With this mission, Beeline Reader entered the BASES Challenge competition, where the team received lasting insight from mentors and judges. “We learned about socially beneficial enterprises,” Nick recalled “[We] didn’t have to be a nonprofit, but instead, could be a for-profit that’s beneficial — that isn’t just about as many dollars as possible.”

I was surprised to hear that before Challenge, Nick was working as a senior-associate in a corporate law form. “I was at a point in a life in which I might not otherwise do this,” he told me. “After we won BASES, I quit my job.”

Largely contributing to Nick’s decision, BASES Challenge opened many doors for BeelineReader.  “Winning was great, because we had been talking to people at the American Optometric Association (the oldest in the country with 40,000 members), and our contacts were having a little bit of a hard time.” With the credibility of “winning BASES,” the AOA was doubling down, writing articles, and spreading the word. “I talked to the chairman of the committee,” Nick informed me, “and this was the first time they ever had an unanimous vote on a committee in favor of technology.”

Today, BeelineReader is moving forward with tremendous momentum. Nick has even been talking to the Office of Accessible Education (Stanford OAE) at the Charles Schwab Education Center to make his technology available to Stanford students.

When asked about the takeaways of his journey thus far, Nick responded, “It’s really cool to see how you’re trying to solve Problem A but end up also trying to solve Problem B and C.”

As BeeLine Reader teaches us, sometimes, impact isn’t something you can plan.

By Vincent Chen

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The Winner’s Circle (Part 1): Switchmate

SwitchMate (Product Showcase Winner 2014)

“Every time we went to Home Depot, we got kicked out. But, every time we were there, we learnt a ton.”

When Daniel Peng, Co-Founder of SwitchMate, spoke to users about their perceptions of home automation, they responded with very similar answers. “Most people don’t know what it is, and if they did, they didn’t want to call an electrician. Or they were at an apartment, so they couldn’t rewire,” Peng said. The adjectives they chose to describe home automation were often “cumbersome,” “complicated,” and “expensive.”

Born in the Stanford Mechatronics lab, SwitchMate was inspired when Co-Founder Robert Romana “wanted to turn his lights off from bed.”

Along with co-founder and electrical engineer Ashish Dua, the team learned about an industry that could be worth $52 billion by 2020. “We all met in college 6 years ago in the Bay Area,” Daniel said. “At the time, we were working on different projects.”

Throughout their user research stage, they more clearly realized that most people were deterred from home automation because it was not simple enough. With continued feedback, Daniel revealed, “We were able to use a 3D printer and iteratively make prototypes to ship out to our beta testers.”

Before long, the team entered the BASES Challenge with SwitchMate. Their focus: “How are we going to make a demo stand such that when people come by and play around with it, they’ll get it immediately?” Ultimately, Daniel used very few words to to showcase their product: “Hey, are you interested in simplifying your home lighting system?” Afterwards, users who tried it “set the prototype, smack it on, and they understood it immediately.”

The BASES Challenge helped SwitchMate “validate their idea” because “people really liked where it was going.” After the competition, Ashish and Daniel quit their jobs to commit themselves to the team full-time.

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When asked about the culture of their company, Daniel was quick to respond: “Team dynamic was extremely important. The biggest thing is believing in the mission of the company, such as loving the product and caring a lot about our customers. There are a couple of things that we all definitely agree on.”

With the 1st Place winnings, the team bought a 3D printer to more flexibly iterate over their prototypes. A priority on customers has allowed Switchmate to make great strides towards a common mission. As an entrepreneur, Daniel explained, “We all went through the education system, and while we learned a lot from classes, there’s nothing like just going out there and trying it ourselves. Learning by doing is one of the biggest things for me, and entrepreneurship is an awesome way to do that.”

On the future of SwitchMate, Daniel was quick to answer: “Our vision is to make home automation extremely simple, so people can use it without even having to pick up a screwdriver.”

To learn more about Switchmate, visit their website http://www.myswitchmate.com/

By Vincent Chen

BASES Challenge KickOff…And We’re Live!

The BASES Challenge season has officially sprung into action.

BASES Challenge is Stanford’s oldest and largest student startup competition. As an annual startup competition, Challenge awards funding to aspiring Stanford entrepreneurs. Students and alumni enter their business or social venture ideas to compete for $100,000 in prize money and developmental opportunities. The application process begins with an electronic written application and culminates in two rounds of live judging.

Naturally some might find this process intimidating, perhaps even unattainable. As sophomore Simar Mangat spoke at the event on Monday, he described being a Freshman last year with little formal knowledge of entrepreneurship, but simply found some friends, united over a fiery passion, and just went for it. His novice team actually went on to win Challenge.

And, it’s true. BASES hopes this opportunity is a learning process in itself—one that anybody and everybody can get immersed in with innumerable chances along the way to make industry connections, get your name out there, develop closer bonds with fellow student entrepreneurs, become inspired, and, of course, strive for that ultimate gold at the end of the rainbow that could truly kickstart your venture.

In parallel with BASES’ goal to lengthen the reach of the competition to a wider audience, a couple new initiatives have been launched this year. Perhaps the most exciting is the initiative, BASES Funds. In the words of BASES Co-President, Brandon Garcia,”BASES Fund is a new initiative we’re piloting with the objective of eliminating financial constraints from students’ endeavors to work on their own projects. The fund seeks to distribute grants to students doing legitimate work. All we ask for in exchange is regular updates to our blog to keep the wider community in the loop about the technologies being developed.” There is also a greater chance for social ventures to take home money with this year’s altered Challenge prize structure.

As the evening concluded, those at the Kickoff last night got to hear some frank advice from Michael Baum, CEO of Founder.org and entrepreneurial enthusiast who left the audience with 8 thought-provoking tips for any entrepreneur to keep in mind while starting a startup. He described the lifestyle of an entrepreneur as something like no other than a lifestyle that “ is so worth it in the end.” He encouraged everyone in the audience to leverage the innumerable resources Stanford University has to offer while we are still students here—from the Maker’s Lab to opportunities like BASES Challenge to meet industry professionals to, of course, the rich diversity of minds we have the opportunity to be surrounded by everyday. So, why not take a chance?

Garcia and Michael Longoria, Director of Challenge agree that “Kickoff brought together future participants, past winners, and industry professionals to share their excitement for the BASES Challenge competition. A great keynote by Michael Baum, awesome demos from incredible Challenge alumni, and a great audience contributed to a successful 2015 launch of Stanford’s largest and oldest venture competition.” And with that, here’s to another season of BASES Challenge pitches, creativity, uncertainty, memories, and passion.

As Mangat encourages, “you won’t get the chance to go through something like BASES Challenge again. The timing is never “perfect” so even if you’re on the fence…just go for it!”

Apply to BASES Challenge!

Want more specifics about the prize structure? Find it here

Curious about BASES Fund. Apply here!

BASES Challenge Timeline

Jan 19: Applications go live

Mar 07: Applications due at 11:59pm

Apr 09 – Apr 10: Initial Judging Round

Apr 12 – May 1: Workshops + Office Hours

May 08: Finale Event

By Divya Saini