By Rajat Bhageria EE’18 (Team Leader), Ben Sandler C’18/ENG’18, David Ongchoco C’18, and Joe Cappadona ENG’18 (Team Members) of ThirdEye
There are over 7 million blind Americans who are largely dependent on others. We believe in empowering the blind. Thus, we have built a Google Glass app that verbally tells visually impaired persons what they are looking at. Already, we have beta tested our product, been featured in international media, and have secured a partnership with the largest blind persons’ organization in America.
What’s new and exciting about your business plan?
We believe that technology has the potential for huge social impact. We are working with cutting edge technology to apply it to a huge problem: visual impairment. This is almost unbelievable because we are getting the best of all worlds: we are developing exciting technology, feeling great about solving a real problem, and at the same time building a sustainable business. This is something not many businesses can claim, and it drives us to work as hard as we can on ThirdEye.
How did you come up with this idea?
The team was inspired by Joe—one of the cofounders—whose grandfather was visually impaired. Joe recounts stories of his grandfather wishing to be less reliant on others to accomplish everyday tasks. We are enthusiastically pursuing ThirdEye to help visually impaired persons, like Joe’s grandfather, regain some of their independence and live an improved life.
What does it mean to you to be one of the eight finalists in the Wharton Business Plan Competition?
First of all, all of us were quite entrepreneurial coming into Penn, but never did we think that we would be working on an endeavor of this scope this early. We found a team and started working on ThirdEye extremely early (second week of our Freshmen year). Since then, it’s been an absolutely crazy journey that has culminated in WBPC. The only reason that we participated initially was because we knew that we would have to write a business plan regardless in order to raise funding….we honestly didn’t even know what discounted cash flow was before the competition, and had no expectation of doing well considering that most of the participants—MBA students—have years of industry experience over us.
After becoming semi-finalists, the real learning experience began. We spent countless hours researching all the material we needed to cover (we had never formally “learned” how to do it), writing it, and then getting feedback from other founders, older friends, entrepreneurial family members, and advisors. We applied the lean startup model to actually writing the plan by iterating and incorporating feedback from our audience at every step.
Being finalists as an all freshmen team (none of whom are even in Wharton) was an even more surreal experience; we’re extremely delighted to have made it this far in the competition. WBPC has been a huge learning experience (not only in terms of improving our product via feedback, but also just learning about all the aspects of starting and planning a business), but now we’re not just in it for the experience…we’re in it to win it. We really need some money right now to do a beta clinical study with 15-20 patients and funding from this competition could be fundamental in opening doors for insurance to cover our product.
What’s one fun fact about each member of your team?
Rajat Bhageria hates the high school education system so much that he has written a book about how to fix the broken system.
David Ongchoco comes from the Philippines where there are more than 7107 islands but he’s only been to 2. He hopes to travel to the other 7105 before he dies.
Ben Sandler has a soft spot for striped attire (especially sweaters and t-shirts). Many people jokingly refer to him as “Steve from Blue’s Clues.”
Joe Cappadona is a cinephile with a particular love for documentaries. His two favorite documentaries are Citizenfour and The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz.
If you win the Perlman Grand Prize ($30,000 cash prize, $10,000 in legal services, $5,000 in accounting/strategy services, GLG Share Fellowship), what will you do with the money?
Over the past month, we’ve been talking to multiple angel investors, VCs, and other entrepreneurs in healthcare, and the general feedback we’re receiving is that doing a clinical study is extremely important for us; we’ve tested our product informally with patients, but before anyone invests, they will want to see firsthand data. As a result, we will mainly use the cash prize to buy 20 pairs of smart glasses (around $1000 each), and do our initial beta distribution. We will be working with our partner—the National Federation of Blind—to do this distribution with visually impaired patients of all levels. We can then use the data we gather to improve the product for the actual market distribution.
We also need a lot of help with legal services—mainly, incorporation, filing for a trademark, doing a patent search, and writing a terms of service agreement. We would also love the support and advice of experts who have been in healthcare technology before and have brought products to market in the past; GLG and strategy experts would be perfect in this regards.
Since we’re young in school, it is difficult to convince VCs or even angels to invest; funding from WBPC will sincerely be a tipping point in bringing ThirdEye to life, because it will allow us to do the market validation study we fundamentally need to move forth.