Vitaliy Mahidov faced a dilemma one day at the gym in 2014: Go lift weights after completing his run, or stay on the treadmill to finish watching his favorite TV show.
It frustrated Mahidov that he could only hear the show if he remained tethered in place. And that’s when he had an idea.
“What if there was a way to transmit the TV audio through my phone so I can listen anywhere I want without bothering anyone?” Mahidov thought.
He created a company to develop a solution, and in June, it became one of four student startups that won money and mentoring from the University of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute for a summer of entrepreneurship.
The four teams set goals and received of a slice of $18,000 from Rush to Revenue, a more intense summer version of the institute’s monthly Get Seeded grant program. Students who won past Get Seeded grants were invited to compete for the funding, sponsored by Zions Bank.
No matter how the companies fare in the future, “the most important thing to us is that these students have received an incredible learning opportunity,” said Troy D’Ambrosio, the institute‘s executive director and an assistant dean at the David Eccles School of Business. “All of them are better off because they have launched a company and applied the things they learned in class.”
CloviTek’s goal: Complete a Kickstarter campaign
Mahidov, a 37-year-old who graduated from the U. with an MBA in 2016, has spent the last three years developing a device, known as Clovifi, that would allow users to listen to music, TV or video games without bothering anyone nearby — both at home or in a public place, such as a hospital waiting room or gym.
His partner, Cory Heward, graduated with an MBA in May. They didn’t quite hit the summer deadline to host a Kickstarter campaign, to both make money for the company, CloviTek, and introduce consumers to the product. But the campaign is scheduled to begin Sept. 12.
He was able to develop a second prototype, however, which looks like a wireless router but is only about the size of two iPhone 7s stacked on top of each other. Users can plug it into a TV or computer, download an app on their phone and stream the audio through headphones. Two people can sit in the same room and listen to different things, or listen to the same thing at a different volume, Mahidov said.
There are similar products available, he said, but they are bulkier and more expensive. Mahidov said he expects to sell his device for under $200.
CloviTek also is marketing the device for home use and to those with hearing loss. He hopes the Kickstarter campaign will raise awareness of his solution.
“A lot of people today know about hearing aids, or simple Bluetooth audio transmitters,” he said. “But they may not know of better and much more affordable solutions that can transmit audio over Wi-Fi.”
CloviTek’s pledge goal is $25,000. Individuals who pledge money will receive devices at a discounted price.
Mahidov said he expects to begin manufacturing and selling the devices in December.
Coffee Pops’ goal: Set up carts around Salt Lake City
Darby Bailey McDonough, who is pursuing a graduate certificate in information systems at the U.’s business school, says she has loved coffee “ever since I ate my first Nibs candy from my grandma when I was a kid.”
But in coffee shops, she noticed a certain product — a java lover’s dream, if you will — missing from the menu: the coffee popsicle.
McDonough, 46, launched Coffee Pops, a company that makes popsicles that taste exactly like popular coffee drinks, such as lattes and mochas. At the beginning of the summer, she wanted to sell her popsicles at carts around the city, especially at farmer’s markets.
But about four weeks into the challenge, she decided to shift her focus to bigger events.
She spent the first half of the summer perfecting the recipe, making popsicles by hand first in her home and then the back room of the London Market on on 900 South. The process is a time intensive one, taking four to six hours for each batch.
She made about 1,000 popsicles throughout the summer, selling them in the London Market and at Fourth of July and Pioneer Day festivals. McDonough sold 400 at $3 each.
“We sold less than our goals,” she said, “but we still sold pops. I keep telling people it would have taken me a year to get to this point without Lassonde” because of the program‘s guidance and support.
McDonough wanted to sell the popsicles in coffee shops as well, but found that most do not have freezers. Moving forward, she hopes to sell the popsicles in retail stores throughout the winter. She also wants to develop other flavors, like chai tea lattes with espresso, and provide nondairy options.
The Society’s goal: Expand into other states
Josh Webber established The Society last year to help people who are new to town discover where to go for a good time.
He talked nearly 20 restaurants, bars, nightclubs and music venues into offering perks to Society members in Salt Lake City, Park City and Ogden.
The summer goal: Expand to cities in other states. Going into the challenge, Webber was marketing memberships with the motto “Everyone deserves to be a VIP.”
But he, website developer Mike Misbach and sales leader Justin Searle became convinced over time that the true draw was the chance to treated like a local.
“It changed our focus,” said Webber, 25, an Orem native who graduated in May in business administration and French. “Working professionals, graduate students and tourists, especially skiers, they want to see what’s the inside scoop, where do the locals go…They want to experience the culture.”
In Salt Lake City, club members get a free fresh-pressed juice from Bambara Restaurant on weekend mornings or a blue cheese appetizer in the evening. Kilby Court and Urban Lounge offer two-for-one admissions for live music. Brewvies Cinema Pub offers a free small popcorn to members catching a show.
Half of Piper Down pub has been rented for a Society gathering in late September.
“We wanted to stay fairly simple for our members and direct them to some of the top stops,” Webber said. “A smaller list doesn’t dilute the numbers of members going to each location, too. We want the establishments to see a healthy number of society members coming in.”
The company hit its summer goal, and now has seven participating businesses each in Boise and Reno. Webber also realized people were willing to pay more than the original $35 for the good-for-a-lifetime card. At $80, “sales are remaining the same,” he said.
He plans to expand next into Phoenix and Tucson, cities with big populations of college students who can help spread the word.
Blerp’s goal: Get 50,000 app users
Kepler Sticka-Jones and Aaron Hsu have developed a search-engine app called Blerp that finds soundbites from favorite movies or TV shows and attaches them to outgoing text messages and emails.
“We see a lot of jokes [being sent], just an extra thing to send during a text message,” said undergraduate Sticka-Jones, 19. One example: He’d like to find “You’ll shoot your eye out,” a line from the movie classic “Christmas Story,” to attach to a text to his sister.
Hsu, 22 and in charge of marketing, graduated from the U.’s computer science program this spring. He and Sticka-Jones, who developed the app for phones and computers, rolled Blerp out this summer and aimed for 50,000 users.
Sticka-Jones said the release of iOS and Android apps went better than expected. “We were really surprised by the uptick in use,” he said, adding that the later inclusion of iMessage in the app package also generated traffic.
But there was less use of their website browser than they expected. “People don’t use web apps like they did,” Sticka-Jones observed. “It makes sense, but looking at the numbers, it caught us off guard.”
Hsu and Sticka-Jones identified students from middle school to college age as the app’s prime demographic target, but found it difficult to get their attention. The Lassonde Institute helped connect them with campus housing so they could go to dorms and the student union to promote the apps by word of mouth.
Sticka-Jones said the institute also introduced them to lawyers and engineers, who “made sure we were on good [legal] footing” and helped with validation testing on the apps.
His next goal is to give the app curating capabilities, so users “can have all of their favorite Star Wars soundbites in one place, instead of having to look around for individual ones.”
Including website visitors and app downloads, about 30,000 unique users interacted with Blerp products over the summer, Sticka-Jones said. ”It’s not 50,000 but I’m still proud of it,” he said. “You know what they say about shooting for the stars.”