Science & Tech

UCSB Alums Among Entrepreuners Taking On Santa Barbara Technology Startup Scene

From Campus Point to corner offices, these Gauchos came, saw and conquered the local job market

Phone Halo

Year Founded: 2009

Travel company Ocean Company claims that the average Briton spends 31 minutes a day looking for misplaced items — five minutes on remote controllers, 10 minutes on keys, seven minutes on socks and shoes, four minutes on lottery tickets and one minute on passports.

University of California, Santa Barbara and Technology Management Program alumni Chris Herbert and Christian Smith solved this issue by designing a device that keeps track of valuable items such as your phone, keys and wallet, “taking the database of where items are from our heads to our phones,” Herbert said.

The team took first place at the New Venture Competition in 2009 with Phone Halo, which uses a smartphone application and GPS tracking to alert users when they become separated from their valuables. The idea came about when one member showed up late for a group meeting because he misplaced his phone.

According to Herbert, the company required investment and risk beyond the New Venture Competition cash prize.

“It takes everything you got. Starting a business of any kind is extremely difficult. In terms of cash it took us $20,000 to start the business,” Herbert said.  “While that may sound like a lot, it was $5,000 from each founder — a meaningful amount for each of us — plus our winnings from the New Venture Competition.”

The application uses a crowd sourced tracking feature, in which fellow Phone Halo users passing by your lost item will automatically send location data to your app. The gadget comes in a Wallet TrackR, StickR TrackR and inSite TrackR, each with a battery life lasting between one to two years.

Mike Panesis, Entrepreneurial Program Manager, said that the New Venture Competition offered through TMP in October provides participants with rare opportunities to network and understand how to start their own business.

“We try in the New Venture Competition to get the students to get the feel of what is takes to start a business,” Panesis said. “What is a good idea, what is not a good idea, what is the difference?”

Herbert said that a successful venture depends not only on a viable product idea, but also on a team that works cooperatively.

“There are a lot of people that contribute to the success of our venture. Investors are definitely important, but our team members are what I think about most. I constantly ask myself if we have the best people and how we can recruit the best people,” Herbert said. “It is extremely important to work somewhere that you enjoy coming to work and working in a place you love.”

At prices of $29.95 for one device, $39.95 for two and $79.95 for four, Phone Halo aims to create a large following to enhance its crowd source-tracking feature.

According to Herbert, Phone Halo looks to hire UCSB students as the company grows.

“We have multiple job postings on GauchoLink for a whole array of different positions. We like to hire Gauchos because they tend to be good team players, extremely intelligent and love the work/life balance that Santa Barbara offers us,” Herbert said.

Panesis said that pliability is essential when becoming an entrepreneur, since most first attempts at startups fail.

“I think it is very much a matter of being aware of your environment and finding a problem that you have a unique solution for,” Panesis said. “It is not laying out point A to point B — you also have to be resilient because most startups fail.”

GearUp

Year Founded: 2013

GearUp claimed second place at the Santa Barbara Startup Weekend in November of 2013 for creating a business model that aims to offer users ways to earn and save money through renting outdoor equipment. Renters can provide equipment such as kayaks, bikes, surfboards and skis while collecting a per-day fee.

Christine Quigley, a co-founder of GearUp and graduate student in the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, said she and fellow co-founder Briana Seapy took a class at Bren that gave them the idea for the business.

“The premise of the class was to form a team and work on an idea for a non-profit organization. We started with the idea of donating scholarships to help get under-privileged youth outside and engaged in the environment through outdoor camps,” Quigley said. “With limited resources for many non-profits, we wanted to find a way to be financially sustainable. That’s where the idea of a peer-to-peer website for renting outdoor gear came into play.”

The exchanges can be organized online or via phone app. According to Quigley, revenue from gear exchanges is then used to continue growing the business and to donate to youth scholarships. She said that the biggest challenge was finding tech support and expertise and that there was “a bit of a learning curve in the various aspects of running an organization.”

For those who aspire to start their own company, Quigley recommends that students network both with each other and also with current businesses in addition to seeking out startup groups.

“Talk to everyone! You never know who you may come across or what ideas you might run into. If you have an idea, keep working at it, especially if it’s something you are really passionate about. Get involved with startup groups in the community, [such as] StartupSB or on campus — the TMP program has a lot of great classes.”

OMZA

OMZA is an emerging technology designed to fit yogis with the most suitable yoga class and studio based on the user’s flexibility from low impact to deep strength, strength from gentle to muscle building and tempo from seated to fast pace.

OMZA co-founder and CEO Chyla Walsh, who works as a yoga instructor at Divinitree Yoga and Art Studio in downtown Santa Barbara, said that students often attend classes that are not compatible with their abilities and expectations.

“I saw that people had trouble finding that right class for themselves, for their abilities,” Walsh said. “OMZA is a tool to help guide students into the right class so that studios can actually market to the right people.”

Co-founder Kyle Espinola studied engineering and math and created a code capable of combining the three class features with the right studio and time.

 

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