Entrepreneurship is not only good for individual skills, it also can help boost collaboration.
By: TheNotifeye team from Westlake HIgh School in Austin, Texas.
It’s crazy to think that the five of us barely knew each other at this time last year. Our journey with Notifeye, our innovative road safety product we created as part of our high school’s entrepreneurship program, has been incredible. Today, we want to share our story, from the early days of brainstorming to the excitement of winning a national pitch competition.
It all started in the fall of 2022. As high school Juniors at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, the five of us came together as members of Uncharted Learning’s year-long INCubatoredu entrepreneurship course. For us, we wanted to use the opportunity to make a real impact and create a meaningful solution that could improve people’s lives. Although we weren’t more than acquaintances at the start of the course, we worked well together right from the very beginning developing a team structure that combined our individual talents and interests to become greater than the sum of our parts.
After some brainstorming sessions and discussions, we decided to address a critical issue that hit close to home for all of us—distracted and drowsy driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are about 100,000 police-reported, drowsy-driving crashes every year, and driving while drowsy can be similar to driving under the influence of alcohol.
As high school athletes, we often find ourselves driving home late at night after practice or games. We know firsthand the dangers of feeling exhausted or distracted behind the wheel. That’s when the idea for Notifeye began to take shape. Notifeye is an innovative camera system that can detect driver distraction and drowsiness by scanning a person’s eyes for movement or lack of movement. The device makes a noise (a beep) in order to alert them or “shake” them out of a drowsy or distracted state—potentially saving lives on the road.
One of the most exciting and challenging aspects of our journey was developing the technology behind Notifeye. It’s one thing to have a brilliant idea, but it’s another to bring it to life. Luckily, we have Reuben, our Chief Technology Officer (CTO), who had a background in coding. His expertise and commitment – there were many late nights working on code – were instrumental in creating the software for our innovative product. It was exhilarating to see our idea transform into a working prototype. We knew we were onto something big.
Like any innovative process, our path hasn’t been without challenges. One of the most significant hurdles has been deciding which customer segments to target. With Notifeye having the potential to benefit various groups, including truck drivers, ride share companies and, perhaps most importantly, our peers, narrowing down our focus has been tough. We interviewed potential users starting with those most familiar to us, our friends and their parents. We also leveraged relationships we made through the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas to connect with trucking companies to better understand the challenges their drivers face. In the end, we settled on three key customer segments: truck drivers–specifically truck driving companies, parents of teens (for their teens), and school districts–for bus drivers.
In the process of identifying our target users we learned some valuable lessons. First, we learned that there is value in starting close to home. We understood the challenges high school students face; indeed, that’s why we started Notifeye in the first place. We also had easy access to students in our school, their parents and district leaders as we gathered feedback on our product design. Also, we discovered the importance of networking. We learned about networking in our entrepreneurship class, but it wasn’t until we engaged with, and pitched, a group of executive MBA students at McCombs that we fully appreciated its value. We had initially reached out to practice pitching in advance of the national pitch competition, but that experience led to our conversations with trucking companies who expressed interest in our product.
As part of the INCubatoredu program, teams participate in a national “shark tank-like” pitch competition in order to try to earn funding for their product. It was exciting–and nerve-wracking–to present our idea to a panel of judges, some of whom were heavyweights in the software development industry. We were confident in our product and practiced our pitch many, many times even though we knew it was important to be speaking from the heart and “in the moment.”
All the hard work paid off. The judges appreciated the potential impact for Notifeye to change the game in road safety and were impressed with our pitch and decided to invest in the product. Reflecting on our time in the INCubatoredu course, it’s amazing how we grew as a team and as individuals. When we had started the course we were not particularly comfortable with public speaking and here we were successfully pitching our idea to accomplished experts in their fields.
This year, in our second year of the entrepreneurship program–called ACCELeratoredu– we are using the money we won from the pitch competitions (a total of $32,000) to create our LLC, secure a bank account and fund the next version of Notifeye so we can expand its reach. We are also identifying and contracting with a manufacturer so we can start developing units for public use within the next six months. Like other entrepreneurs, we are getting advice from lawyers and mentors to assist with this work. We have learned so much through the process of setting up a company, engaging contractors, figuring out patents and ensuring we protect our rights and interests and we know these skills will serve us well in the future either as we continue work on Notifeye or in other careers.
As we continue to improve and grow Notifeye, we see incredible potential for the product to serve as an insurance deductible, which could provide an opportunity to further accelerate growth. We are taking what we learned in our INCubatoredu class to continue fund-raising through grants, scholarships, and other pitch competitions to secure the resources needed to realize our vision.
Our journey with Notifeye has been a rollercoaster of innovation, hard work, and determination. We are proud of what our team has accomplished so far, but we know that the road ahead is filled with new challenges and opportunities; including college for each of us in different places! This will add the challenge of proximity, but we are confident we can make it work.
Notifeye is not just a product; it’s a testament to the power of innovation and the fact that high school students, if provided the opportunity, can work together to make the world a safer place. We’re excited to continue working towards our goal of enhancing road safety, one driver and Notifeye camera at a time.
- Nina Kenyon
- Isabel Kubiak
- Emily Royce
- Chris Kienstra
- Reuben Paul