Supporting Students’ Entrepreneurial Spirit
The students believed their ideas could solve problems that people and businesses face every day. The question was how to transform their ideas into startups.
The answer is Startup Launch, a two-semester program to help teams of students form startups based on their ideas, inventions and prototypes. The program is part of CREATE-X, a Georgia Tech initiative to enhance and support entrepreneurship programs for undergraduate students
The 27 teams participating in this year’s Startup Launch will demonstrate their products and services Wednesday starting at 4:30 p.m. at the Fox Theatre.
CREATE-X has helped launch nearly 70 startups since 2014. Graduates have completed prestigious nationally recognized accelerators and incubators and have been recognized among the country’s top entrepreneurs under the age of 30. These companies employ dozens of Georgians and hire Georgia Tech students as interns.
Here’s a look at four CREATE-X alumni.
When John Gattuso arrived at Georgia Tech his post-graduation goal was to work for a car manufacturer in Detroit. Instead he co-founded FIXD, a startup that allows drivers to better understand and maintain their vehicles.
FIXD was part of the 2014 inaugural class of Startup Summer, which later became Startup Launch. Today the company has 23 employees and has sold more than 200,000 units this year.
“It has been a wild ride,” said Gattuso, who graduated in 2015 with a degree in mechanical engineering. “I think when I was a freshman, my wildest dream was to pass Calc II.”
The company’s other founders are Frederick Grimm, an industrial engineering major who graduated in 2014, and Julian Knight, who graduated in 2015 with a degree in electrical engineering.
Besides CREATE-X, the company went through VentureLab, the Institute’s technology commercialization incubator. FIXD is now part of Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), which is the state’s technology incubator.
The company’s distribution allows it to work with parts retailers and car dealerships to help drivers get needed parts and services.
FIXD includes a sensor that is plugged into a car’s diagnostic port. It relays problems to an app via Bluetooth. It provides a simple definition of what is wrong, explains the severity of the issue and warns of the consequences of driving without repairs. The device will also keep track of the vehicle’s diagnostics and let owners know when their car is due for maintenance.
Gattuso said the company is still using the lessons it learned from CREATE-X. They are hoping to launch a new product and completing the customer discovery process.
Zack Braun and Tyler Sisk weren’t looking to launch a startup when they signed up for CREATE-X. The two friends just wanted to develop their idea to help keep firefighters safe.
They signed up for Idea 2 Prototype, which is part of CREATE-X. The for-credit class provides students with up to $1,500 and mentorship to transform their idea into a working prototype.
They developed FireHUD, a real-time wearable system and heads up display that provides biometric and environmental data to firefighters on the job and officials on site. The device measure heart rate, body temperature and external temperatures that can help predict fatigue and prevent injuries.
The class led them to 2016’s Startup Summer. They’ll graduate in December and are currently running the company out of Sisk’s basement.
Braun, a computer engineering major, and Sisk, an electrical engineering major, brought on board Chris Ward, who earned an MBA from Georgia Tech. They are finalizing a first production run of 30 units and will conduct pilot tests at four metro Atlanta fire departments.
That exposure has led other Georgia Tech students to ask them if it’s worth signing up for CREATE-X over other classes, clubs or internships.
“We tell them that it is because the chance to bring their ideas into the world and truly leave their mark is an incredible opportunity,” Braun said. “Anyone can do CREATE-X -- all they need is an idea.”
Dorrier Coleman and Isaac Wittenstein solved a main source of frustration for drivers of electric vehicles. Their startup, TEQ Charging, makes charging easier by allowing multiple drivers to plug their cars into a charging queue.
The company connects electric vehicle charging stations to the cloud at low cost. This allows for affordability and profitability for property owners and guarantees availability of charging stations for drivers. Seven hotels in Florida and Georgia are piloting the product.
Coleman, a computer engineering major who graduated in 2015, and Wittenstein, a mechanical engineering major who graduated in August, completed Startup Summer in 2015.
“CREATE-X introduced us to the world of startups and a new path that wasn’t on our radar at Georgia Tech,” Wittenstein said.
The company’s name is short for The Electric Queue and pays tribute to Georgia Tech.
Today the company is part of ATDC and has three full-time employees and three Georgia Tech interns.
Coleman and Wittenstein also completed the Techstars IoT (Internet of Things) Accelerator in New York City.
Wittenstein said there are a few lessons from CREATE-X the company still follows.
“Never be afraid to ask others for help,” he said. “Always be open to advice and input from others, but know that you ultimately have to make the final decision. And continually listen to your customers and what their needs are.”
Gimme Vending has come a long way since 2014’s Startup Summer program.
In just three years, the company has become a funded startup with 10 employees. More than 10,000 vending machines use the company’s products and thousands more are in the process of coming online, said Cory Hewett, CEO and one of the company’s founders.
Gimme Vending builds hardware and software mobility tools that allows companies to easily monitor the status of their cash and inventory in real-time. The company’s technology replaces cumbersome handheld devices and allows for better unattended retail management.
Hewett, an electrical engineering major, left Georgia Tech in 2014 to focus on the company full-time. Evan Jarecki, the company’s chief technology officer, graduated in 2014 with a degree in electrical engineering.
Larger vending companies have noticed Gimme and formed partnerships to work with the young startup.
In March, Gimme partnered with Cantaloupe Systems, the vending industry’s premier provider of cloud-based mobile technologies. And in April the company announced an alliance agreement with USA Technologies, a payment technology provider of cashless and mobile transactions in self-serve retail.
Hewett said one key lesson from CREATE-X still resonates with the company today.
“GOOTB – ‘get out of the building’ – and talk to real people to find out their pains before you start building anything,” he said. “It’s trendy to say ‘customer discovery’ but that really means getting outside of your normal area, your normal social group, to challenge your understanding of the problem and learn what real people really think.”