Being chosen to present at this year's Wharton Business Plan Competition Venture Finals
was a surprise to at least one of the eight teams participating in the April 30 event: The founders of ThirdEye
are not even Wharton
students (yet) -- they’re freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania
. But their technology, an app joined with a wearable Google Glass-type device, has major potential for helping those with visual impairments live more independent lives.
co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Rajat Bhageria (author of What High School Didn’t Teach Me
) isn’t wasting any time in the quest to build world-changing technology. He teamed up with Ben Sandler (ThirdEye founding head engineer and a computer and cognitive science major), Philippines native David Ongchoco (founding head marketer and media maven), and founding engineer Joe Cappadona (an "athlete, musician, and computer programmer") to develop the technology and business plan almost as soon as they arrived at Penn.
"I want to leave a dent in the universe by creating things that people want," explains Bhageria, a Cincinnati native and computer science engineering major. "We believe in empowering visually impaired individuals."
There are a lot of people who could use their technology -- there are about 300 million visually impaired people in the world; they generate over $41 billion in spending on assistive technologies annually.
The ThirdEye glasses and app work by verbally identifying common objects for wearers who can pick them up, but can’t see them. For example, its camera and voice can tell blind people what denomination of money they’re handed or what kind of pill bottle or household item they’re holding. (Check out the ThirdEye website
for a video demo.)
Other uses include identifying street signs and even being able to read books, menus and newspapers. Bhageria says future updates could incorporate facial recognition software, language translation for travelers, and recognition of individual medications and foods.
They’re already partnering with the National Federation of the Blind
to bring the product to market.
Though the young men aren’t enrolled in grad school yet, "we have been leveraging every opportunity at Wharton we can get our hands on," enthuses Bhageria. The team talks to professors weekly, joined Wharton’s Venture Initiation Program startup incubator, participates in Wharton events and competitions, and takes Wharton classes.
All that learning and networking -- and the intense time put into current competition -- is already paying off. The company began building their product last September and are already in beta testing with visually impaired individuals. They’re heading for a clinical study this summer with up to 20 participants, with a national beta launch in view for later in the year.
As for the April 30 pitch-fest itself, initially the team "had no expectation of doing well considering that most of the participants -- MBA students -- have years of industry experience over us," says Bhageria, but their confidence has been growing.
"Now we’re not just in it for the experience," he insists. "We’re in it to win it."
There’s $128,500 in cash and in-kind awards at stake, including the $30,000 Perlman Grand Prize. That would be a great boost to the team as they head into clinical trials, and "could be fundamental in opening doors for insurance to cover our product."
The Wharton Business Plan Competition Venture Finals featuring 20-minute presentations from the "Great Eight" finalists is happening 1 - 6 p.m. Thursday, April 30 at the Wharton School.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Rajat Bhageria, Third Eye