“Think about what you did yesterday. Have something in mind? Now think about how that something would be different if you were blind.... Difficult to imagine, no?” college entrepreneur Rajat Bhageria asks in a self-published Forbes article. He continues, “You see, we often take our eyes for granted, when in reality we’re almost dependent on sight. In fact, the lives of visually impaired persons are significantly different than our own, with independence being one of the main problems. But what if we could change that?” From this understanding, ThirdEye Technologies was born. The technology, which Rajat co-founded with fellow Penn students Joe Cappadona and Ben Sandler, came from the desire to equip the blind and visually impaired with the independence they deserve.We spoke with Rajat Bhageria about their venture, and learned more about the companies accomplishments, challenges, and where they hope to see ThirdEye in the future.
The team at the Wharton Business Plan Competition Venture Finals in April 2015. They took home both the "Most Disruptive Award" and "People's Choice Award"![/caption]
ThirdEye Technologies: From Product Ideation to Market
Caption: ThirdEye – Google Glass Demonstration
This Philadelphia-based nonprofit commercializes a product to assist the visually impaired and provide them with the independence they deserve. Rajat, Ben, and Joe formulated ThirdEye Glass during a weekend hackathon. The technology initially leveraged Google Glass to verbally identify what the wearer is looking at. Sometime later, the idea pivoted. While the product was a success, landing ThirdEye a partnership with the National Federation for the Blind, the team saw some limitations of wearables.“The problem with wearables is that they’re immature in the market, and they’re expensive,” said cofounder Rajat Bhageria in an interview with TechCrunch.
Their focus pivoted to a mobile platform, which uses object and text recognition to identify what the user is pointing their device towards. This product has many practical applications. Take for example, if a blind or visually impaired person were to open the fridge and grab a condiment, how are they to confirm which bottle they’ve picked up? By using ThirdEye’s object and text recognition capabilities, they could learn that they are holding a bottle of Heinz Ketchup.
After developing their product at the hackathon, the ThirdEye team took to networking in order to plot their next move as a business. The team sought out entrepreneurs and other professionals to learn exactly what it takes to bring the product to market. Being a college start-up, they utilized their school’s resources to do just that.“Having very few contacts with successful entrepreneurs, for the next few weeks we lived on our school’s alumni directory. Whenever we found anyone--entrepreneurs, founders, medical personnel, CEOs, friends, and investors--we would pitch them and ask for advice on how to go forward” Rajat explained in another self-published Forbes article. Through networking with alumni and other key players at Penn, the ThirdEye team gained the entrepreneurial know-how – along with funding for their new venture.
However, Rajat explained of the company’s structure, “The thing to keep in mind is that we're not doing ThirdEye to make money (in fact I would argue it's one of the worst businesses purely from a financial standpoint); we were doing it to make as much impact as possible and we thought that the non-profit route would help us with that goal. After that it was just cost-benefit analysis: the major benefit was that since we were non-profit a lot more people and organizations would want to help us and we would get access to a lot of grants. The costs were that we could give out dividends to shareholders and had to reinvest all earnings into the company (which was what we wanted to do anyways).”
Through this strategy, ThirdEye demonstrates their altruistic intentions in bringing some semblance of independence to the blind and visually impaired.
Ultimately, Rajat told OCM, ThirdEye aims to have a global impact. “I think what's next is just continually expanding internationally. Right now we're mainly in America on iOS but increasingly the rest of the world is getting access to Android smartphones so we want to expand to India, China, and Brazil mainly right now.”
How You Can Start a Business in College
Rajat also shared some advice with OCM to other students looking to start a business in college. He explains: “I think the main piece of advice is that everyone is willing to help you -- so reach out to as many people as you can for advice. Innovation really is a network game and who you know matters so it's important.” Rajat found resources such as medical professionals and entrepreneurs through his university’s alumni directory. Reaching out to those with experience – be it entrepreneurs or industry insiders – can greatly assist you both intellectually and financially.“
Another major point would be that when you're in college there are a lot of organizations who will help you so make sure to take advantage of all the resources (like free legal services at the local firm instead of spending 10k there, etc),” Rajat continued. Resources vary from school to school, but almost all of them offer some type of support for budding business – from something small like a regular library break-out room for meetings, to research and funding opportunities.
If you’re looking to start a business in college, check out our infographic. It will guide you through the steps, from ideation to implementation. Paired with Rajat’s advice on networking and utilizing your campus’ resources, you’ll be well equipped to start your own business in college!
We thank Rajat and the ThirdEye team for their efforts to assist with the blind and visually impaired, and we’re excited to watch this company continue to grow after their university years.To keep up to date on ThirdEye’s business, check out ThirdEye here or follow them on Facebook.