This summer, the Dingman Center will be conducting interviews with the nine student startups who are participating in the Terp Startup summer incubator phase of our Fearless Founders accelerator program. Participating student entrepreneurs received a stipend up to $5,000 that would enable them to work exclusively on their startups over eight weeks in the summer.
The sole founder of GlowGadget, Shane Salta, is a computer engineer turned Smith School of Business MBA graduate who is looking to launch a line of t-shirts that feature smart LED lighting technology. The lighting on the prototype shirt is flexible and seamlessly integrated into the fabric of the shirt itself, in addition to being totally mesmerizing. Through connectivity with an app, the wearer has the ability to fully customize the appearance of the lights to produce colorful designs, patterns and animations. The shirt has exciting potential to dazzle at sports events, where wearers might synchronize a message to support their favorite team, or at a music festival, where the shirt could make wearers an attraction unto themselves. As both a tinkerer and an entrepreneur, Shane is passionate about producing a shirt that is both technologically superior and has mass market appeal.
How did you first come up with your idea?
Shane: I’ve been tinkering with LEDs, smart lighting technology and wearable electronics for years because I just thought it was really cool. Technology has developed and gotten smaller and smaller until now you’re able to incorporate a large number of LEDs onto a shirt that is flexible. And now you’re able to show designs and text and animations that you really weren’t able to before. It’s really the cusp of the technology now, to be able to do these sort of things. And when you go out in crowds, people just swarm you, it’s like moths to a light.
What are some major milestones you’ve achieved so far?
Shane: Putting together prototypes. Prototyping the product, getting out there and getting customer feedback. We’re really in the iteration phase where we’re ironing out where we want to go with the product. The goal is really to provide something valuable that people want to buy for the right price.
What drives you to keep going?
Shane: What drives me is just being able to make my own destiny. I’m directly responsible for my success or my failure, it’s not in someone else’s hands. I like that if you work really hard and come up with good ideas, then you can make it and set your own path. So it’s that aspect of entrepreneurship as well as the engineering side of me, you know, I’m just having fun with this anyway. It’s a lot of fun. When I went into my MBA I had a lot of ideas, and this seems to be one of the best ideas and in an area which I have a lot of expertise in.
How do you feel about working in an incubator?
Shane: It’s been great. I think the best part about the incubator is being around all like-minded individuals. Everyone is hand-picked and it’s all people who are really passionate about being an entrepreneur. I’ve been trying to help [the startups] as much as I can. They’re doing a lot of stuff that, through my MBA I have a lot of resources I can provide to help them. For example, I sent FroDoh a case on HonestTea to read since they’re going through a similar experience. I’m trying to encourage them to share some of their best practices too, so they taught everybody about some of the apps they use to manage their sales and pipeline.
I also really enjoy the mentorship that’s been provided to me. I have a great mentor, Micha Weinblatt, [Rudy Award winner for Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year and founder of t-shirt company Crooked Monkey], who got really excited about the idea and helped me to formulate next steps. He’s helped me reach out to people who have similar projects that might have failed, and to try and learn from their experience, as well as potentially get advisors or other people on board to help.
What are you hoping to achieve during Terp Startup this summer?
Shane: Going with a lean startup methodology, my goal is to continue to iterate on my prototypes, refine them and get customer feedback on them in order to land on a design that it’s proven there’s a demand for. Once we have that, then we have to make sure that we can design it for manufacturing. Some of these things can be very labor intensive to produce and that’s obviously not scalable. So that’s an important consideration as we design these products. And then to start with some low-volume manufacturing—even if that’s in my basement—to acquire this first batch of customers.