Startup Founded by CE Juniors Wows Innovation District Audience
By Mark Dwortzan
Downtyme, a startup co-founded by Barron Roth and Luke Sorenson (both CE ’16) based on their final project in ENG EC 327, Introduction to Software Engineering, won the second annual Beantown Throwdown entrepreneurial business pitch competition. Held on November 18 at Boston’s District Hall before a sellout audience of more than 200 and organized by the MIT Enterprise Forum, the competition featured three-minute pitches from local college student entrepreneurs. Edging out teams from Harvard, MIT, Northeastern and five other Boston-area colleges and universities vying for votes from a sellout audience of more than 400 students, sponsors and investors, Downtyme received more than $20,000 in in-kind legal and marketing services, mentoring and office space.
Roth gave the pitch for Downtyme, representing a cross-functional team that includes Sorenson, John Moore (CE ’15), Nick Sorensen (SMG ’14), Darryl Johnson (CE ’17), Ben Pusey (CAS ’16) and Tufts University senior Nikki Dahan. The Downtyme app enables users to meet up with other users who are available and nearby. Users identify their friends by linking the app to their Facebook account and indicate their availability by entering or importing their calendars. To bring up a list of nearby Facebook friends, they may either press “Now” or “Later,” depending on when they want to get together. Launched in beta mode last March, a full version of the app will be released in January.
After a panel discussion on entrepreneurship moderated by Boston Globe Innovation Economy columnist Scott Kirsner, representatives from each team were given three minutes to pitch their startups and one minute to field questions from the panelists. Afterwards, audience members received $3 million in fake cash to “invest” in one or more of the startups. After all pitches were completed, attendees were invited to “invest” in their top three picks with the $3 million in play money they received upon arrival. Downtyme emerged with $68 million, $2.5 million more than the closest competitor.
“My competitors encompassed such a wide variety of industries, from biotech to advertising startups. It was really a tossup as to who would walk away with the trophy,” said Roth, who was subsequently featured in Foley Hoag’s 2014 MVPs of Boston Tech event, a panel discussion among finalists from Boston-area business competitions. “We’re confident this win is more validation that our product is something people want, even beyond the student spectrum. Many attendees came up to me after the pitch requesting an enterprise version, and it’s certainly something my team is considering.”
The second place winner, Nonspec, is a University of Massachusetts-Lowell startup seeking to produce low-cost, long-lasting prosthetic devices for resource-limited countries. Placing third was Gentoo Inc., a Wentworth Institute of Technology startup that’s developed a vest to simplify outpatient treatment involving intravenous medicines.
“Downtyme’s presentation was engaging and compelling, addressing a problem that many of the students and young professionals in the audience recognized,” said Ian Mashiter, Boston University director of Entrepreneurship Activities and lecturer in the School of Management. “Downtyme is the first app that uses mobile devices as a way of facilitating face to face interaction rather than substituting for it.”
Downtyme earned its opportunity to enter the competition by placing first in an earlier competition for Boston University startups hosted by the BUzz Lab, BU’s new student center for entrepreneurship that Mashiter runs.
By Mark Dwortzan
Downtyme, an app that makes it easier for college students and other overscheduled people to get together offline, won the $2,500 first prize at the College of Engineering’s third annual Imagineering Competition.
Held April 17-18 at Ingalls Engineering Resource Center, the competition fielded entries from nine undergraduate engineering students or student teams that applied their creativity and entrepreneurial skills to build working prototypes of technologies aimed at improving the quality of life. Developed in the Singh Imagineering Lab and other on-campus facilities, this year’s projects ranged from a lab-crafted electric guitar to a stairway safety monitor for senior citizens.
Competitors described, demonstrated and defended their work before a panel of four judges—Associate Dean for Administration Richard Lally; Associate Dean for Educational Initiatives/Professor Thomas Little (ECE, SE); Jonathan Rosen, the College of Engineering’s director of Innovation Programs; and Associate Professor Daniel Cole (ME). The judges assessed each project for originality, ingenuity and creativity; quality of design and prototype; functionality; and potential to positively impact society.
From Facebook to Face-to-Face
Scoring high marks in all four categories, Downtyme enables Facebook friends with free time to find each other by uploading their calendars, selecting one friend or group of friends who are free and close by during a specified window of time, and inviting them to share a meal, study, play basketball, hang out, and more. Incorporating more than 25,000 lines of code, the app displays friends on your screen in order of proximity and closeness of their relationship to you.
“We think there’s a discrepancy between the time people spend on social media and the time they’d like to spend interacting in the real world,” said Luke Sorenson (CE/EE’16), who
developed Downtyme in the past four months with teammates John Moore (CE’16), Timothy Chong (BME/CE’16) and Barron Roth (CE’16).
“Our solution was to make a smartphone app that saves you from your smartphone,” added Moore. “Our idea is that you take out your phone, go to the App Store, and 30 seconds later you make plans with your friends.”
After the team launched a startup (Downtyme LLC) and rolled out a Beta version of the app for iPhones and Android mobile devices this spring, more than 1,200 users (mostly college students in Greater Boston) downloaded it and are now putting it to the test. The team plans to market the app to college students around the country, companies seeking to coordinate meetings, and other users looking for a convenient way to transact face-to-face connections.
“The Downtyme mobile app shows a highly developed awareness of how important personal contact is in an increasingly digital world,” said Rosen. “All three winning projects show how our students are becoming Societal Engineers as they apply their engineering skills, creativity and entrepreneurship to improve the quality of life.”
Better Robots and Lab Experiments
The second prize winner, Konstantinos Oikonomopoulos (ME’14), received $1,500 for his project, “Hexapteron – A Six Degree of Freedom, Parallel, Semi-Decoupled Robotic Manipulator.” Oikonomopoulos shared first prize last year for his automatic transmission-equipped “Smart Bike” and won second prize in the first Imagineering Competition for his highly-accurate, affordable, easy-to-assemble desktop 3D printer.
The Hexapteron can both translate and rotate objects about the x, y and z axes with three sets of software-controlled, carbon-fiber arms that move in parallel. It’s a next-generation, six-degrees-of-freedom manipulator with a unique design and properties that make it suitable for a wide range of applications, including affordable, desktop 3D printing on curved surfaces, multi-axis machining and multi-axis robotic assembly.
“The Hexapteron has never been built before,” said Oikonomopoulos, who took only a month to make the prototype, which occupies a workspace of 20 cubic centimeters and costs about $1,000. “I think this kind of device will one day replace many industrial robots.”
Adrian Tanner (ME’15) and Rhonda Silva (BME’15) won the $1,000 third place prize for their entry, “LickDat,” a device that monitors how frequently a laboratory mouse sucks on a water bottle containing a sweet, addictive, liquid food sample. Consisting of an Arduino (an open source electronics prototyping platform), LCD screen and liquid dispenser suitable for small rodents, the device was designed to support studies conducted by the Boston University Medical School Laboratory of Addiction Genetics on addictive behaviors towards food including obesity and compulsive eating disorders.
Whereas conventional lab equipment costs more than $300 and runs current through the mouse to detect each lick of the water bottle, LickDat costs less than $100 and uses capacitance sensors—a common technology in touchscreen surfaces—to detect licks.
Other entries included an automated diagnostic platform that communicates results via a smartphone app; a “Smart Mat” that adjusts heating, cooling, and lighting levels when someone steps into a room; a solar powered Stirling Engine designed to power cell phones and other low-energy devices; and an “Electronic Personal Trainer” that provides feedback to improve weightlifting performance.
Sponsored by John Maccarone (ENG’66), the competition was designed to reinforce the ideal of creating the Societal Engineer by spotlighting student efforts to design, build and test new technologies that promise to positively impact society.
Imagineering Lab programming is supported by the Kern Family Foundation and alumni contributions to the ENG Annual Fund.