by Len Lear
Alec Satterly, a hearing-impaired graduate of Springfield Township High School, is one of three students from Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT) National Technical Institute for the Deaf who say their days of oversleeping may soon be a thing of the past. That is because they recently won this year’s “Next Big Idea” competition to better the lives of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals.
Their company, called “Cenify,” was formed by Satterly, a management information systems major from nearby Oreland, along with Patrick Seypura, a management major from South Windsor, Conn. They began two years ago with an idea to create something that would eliminate the need to set a vibrating alarm clock each night, a task familiar to many deaf and hard-of-hearing people.
They were joined by Sophie Phillips, a medical illustration major from Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., who designed a proposal for a prototype, which took first place and $5,000 in the contest, sponsored by ZVRS, a Florida-based video relay company. “This is a huge hassle. We have to change this,” Seypura said as he lifted a bulky vibrating alarm clock entangled in wires.
Their concept would allow alarms to be programmed days in advance from a smartphone, even at different times for each day through Bluetooth technology. It may also be set to vibrate when important calls from identified phone numbers are received, or act as a fire alarm rather than a strobe light, used by most deaf individuals. They said 11 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people live in the U.S. and could use such an alarm.
Cenify was one of six final teams in the recent competition. The finalists were selected from 19 entries. Judges scored the teams on originality, presentation, the idea’s relevance to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, and the feasibility to commercialize the product.
Alec, 21, a junior at RIT, is not deaf himself, but he is hard-of-hearing. “I was born a month early and got really sick after I was born,” he said last week, “so we think that had something to do with it.”
Alec decided to attend RIT because of its advance technology programs and because of their deaf and hard-of-hearing program. “Since I grew up going to mainstream schools, I felt it would be cool to go to a college that has a program for people like me.”
The innovative local student started off his first two years in business management but “found it boring, as I didn’t care much for the typical psychological office problems that managers have to deal with. After my first startup, Myspiderweb.com, that I founded in my freshman year of college, I developed a love for technology and business. So I decided to switch to management information systems with a focus of supporting business goals with supporting technology and business processes.”
Alec had input in just about every part of the award-winning project from hardware to software to designs to business. Their next creation would provide the deaf community with an advanced shaking alarm clock that shakes deaf/hard-of-hearing users in the morning.
“Currently,” said Alec, “every shaking alarm clocks on the market is big with tons of wires coming out of it, which connect to a shaker box that sits under your mattress. These alarm clocks are clearly 1970s’ technology. We decided to solve the problems deaf and hard-of-hearing people have with these alarm clocks.
“In the deaf culture, there is this saying ‘he/she is on deaf time’ since deaf people tend to be late in the mornings. We found that it’s because the alarm clocks on the market have to be reset each night before bed, but people tend to forget to reset their clocks. We also found that the shakers tend to fall out from under the mattress or disconnect from the wire, which results in not waking up on time.”
Alec and his cohorts are currently in the process of finishing up their final prototypes for three products. Alarmify, the shaking wireless alarm clock they created for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, should be 100% done within the next two months. The other two products are Lightify and Plugify, which are also smart home devices. The trio plan on using a crowd-funding source, most likely KickStarter, to help sell the product and raise non-equity funds.
“The whole idea,” said Alec, “is to create revenue before we build and ship the devices out to the customer because if we get the backing we need, we can produce a larger order for a cheaper price up front without getting an investment or bank loan. Our goal is to license our technology to a bigger company that specializes in the space because they have more resources such as distribution channels and market share.”
Alec and his team are taking the communication part of the technology that they built for the alarm clock and applying it to build other home-automated products. They are currently working on lights, wall outlets, coffee makers and window shades. Their software is the brain behind the automation.
“Our company,” said Alec, “is focusing on home automation products to help simplify people’s lives but eliminating daily tasks such as opening your shades, turning on/off the lights, locking your house up, etc.
“Every new business/startup in a new industry has a 90% failure rate on average, but if everything is done right and we enter the home automation market within a reasonable time frame, this startup could change my life in terms of success.”