Claflin Students and Alumnus Pitch Business Ideas at White House Innovations Summit
Jan 15, 2016
A smartwatch-like glucose alert system and applications that make it easier to get a haircut or print without a printer are some of the innovative ideas that three Claflin University students and one alumnus will share in Washington, D.C. Jan. 15 during the White House My Brother’s Keeper “I Have a Dream Innovation Summit.”
The Summit, an initiative of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, will bring together students with industry and policy leaders for a one-day networking session to spur innovation and entrepreneurship. Sixty-five students from around the country, many from minority-serving institutions, have been invited to participate.
Claflin students, Meha Patel and twins Helen and Myrtle Bryant have an idea to create a smartwatch device, like Fitbit©, that will alert diabetic patients when their blood glucose level becomes too low or too high.
Michael Devore, who graduated from Claflin last May, is the CEO of Live Chair Mobile App. He has developed one application that allows users to locate a barber and another that makes it possible for smartphone users to print even when they don’t have a printer with them.
The current students and Devore won Claflin’s annual business competition last year. One of the young ladies attending the Claflin event shared the results with the White House and thus both groups were invited to the summit, said Dr. Robin Davis, director of Claflin’s three-year-old Center for Entrepreneurship.
Patel and the Bryants won first place with their glucose alert device, which they call GlucAlert. The body uses glucose to function. Too little glucose causes hypoglycemia while too much glucose can result in hyperglycemia. Both can have a negative, sometimes fatal, effect on the body. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) estimates that diabetes costs the county $245 billion annually, requiring each diabetic patient to spend about $13,700 a year. Moreover, diabetic patients tend to have more absenteeism and reduced or lost productivity in the workplace. Helping patients better manage this disease could save lives and money.
Although GlucAlert is still in the idea stage, the students are convinced there is a need for a non-invasive detection system, said Helen Bryant.
“We didn’t want people to look at you and tell that something was wrong,” she said.
“We wanted something that was non-invasive, looked normal but would still help the patient.”
The trio, who call themselves PreSense, Inc., after a Claflin faculty member, first developed the idea one evening while sitting in the library.
“Our mother is a nurse who works with diabetic patients and she talks often about people who suffered from hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia,” said Helen Bryant. “When our professor asked us to come up with a project, we knew about the concerns of diabetics. This provided us excellent opportunity to do something related to that.”
Diabetics generally test their blood sugar five to seven times daily by pricking their finger to get enough blood to put on some type of test strip that will change colors to let them know if they are in the normal range. But their blood sugar can rise or sink to dangerous levels without their knowledge. GlucAlert will be worn like a watch and contain sensors that can detect high and low blood sugars and alert the wearer if there is a problem.
The students are in the Claflin University Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College and are senior biochemistry majors. While they were familiar with the technical side of the idea, they knew little about the business side. As a result, they worked with Davis at the Center for Entrepreneurship, to develop a plan to move their idea from concept to reality. And it was the Center that shared information about the summit with them.
And while they don’t have a prototype, they are hoping they will attract investors during the summit willing to commit to developing their idea. They know that an idea can’t be patented and that they run the risk of somebody taking their idea and running with it.
"It’s not about us,” said Myrtle Bryant, “it’s all about getting the product in the marketplace.”
Devore was an Honors College student while enrolled at Claflin. He has won several business competitions for young entrepreneurs including the 2015 International Qzy Genius Award and the 2014 Shark Tank Business Competition. He was also named a Black Enterprise Modern Man. Devore, who is often called “Visionary Mike,” wants to become a technology industry leader, akin to Steve Jobs and Marc Zuckerberg.
“I was always considered a rebel,” Davore has said about his constant desire to find new ideas and solutions. “I want to do something different.”
Since graduation Devore has been using his Live Chair app and had some success with connecting barbers, many without electronic appointment booking software, but looking to fill empty chairs with users. Barbers are able to generate business, and the users get discounts.
Davis said she is excited for all the students and continues to look for opportunities where students can connect academics with real-life business experiences.
“We are preparing our students, not just for the world of work, but to be business owners,” Davis said. “We integrate academics with experiential learning. Our students leave Claflin ready for all opportunities and possibilities.”