C-Safe is a startup that was funded through the Innovation Hub at Research Park.
Forgetfulness is something every person experiences in life, whether it is forgetting to complete a homework assignment or forgetting to bring a pen to class.
C-Safe, one of the 2017-18 Texas Tech University Accelerator companies through the Innovation Hub at Research Park, is attempting to solve forgetfulness in a more life-or-death situation. The company is developing a weighted pad that detects when a child is left in a car seat after an adult leaves the vehicle.
Gage Dutkin, a senior business management major from Austin and the CEO of C-Safe, initially thought of this idea before entering the Innovation Hub's Red Raider Idea Competition, where an entrepreneur uploads a video of an idea for a startup company and receives votes on which idea is the best. Dutkin said even up to the day before the competition, he did not know what he was going to submit.
While Dutkin was brainstorming, he said his mother called and asked him if he heard about the CEO of a hospital who left her daughter in the back seat of a car. Dutkin's mother said the daughter ended up dying because of that mistake.
“Right then and there, I realized this was the problem. Accidentally leaving children in cars was happening all over the country,” Dutkin said. “There was nothing being done about it at the time.”
As Dutkin was creating the video, he said he was attempting to create a one-line phrase to help the viewers remember what the product was about.
“I was trying to come up with a solid one-liner, something that they would remember,” Dutkin said. “I said, ‘It's time to take the next step to keep our children safe.' Then, I said ‘C-Safe,' for ‘Child Safe.' I didn't know where that came from.”
After developing the idea, Dutkin entered and won the Red Raider Idea Competition. He was motivated by the win, but he knew he would need help if he wanted to continue this venture and enter the iLaunch competition, in which startup companies utilize mentors and resources available through the Innovation Hub to help the ideas grow further.
Because the iLaunch competition involved a 25-page business plan and a 1 0-minute pitch in front of investors, Dutkin recruited other students to help him with the company, including Sean Tully, a recent graduate of Texas Tech who is now the vice president of C-Safe.
Dutkin was a friend of Tully's, and they were both in the Texas Tech Collegiate Entrepreneurship Organization, an organization that brings together students interested in entrepreneurship and is designed to help those students launch start-ups. Tully said Dutkin was looking to put a team together for C-Safe to compete in the iLaunch competition and asked Tully if he was interested in the company.
From there, Tully said he was committed to being a part of the C-Safe team.
“The prospect of being a part of a startup company was really interesting to me,” Tully said. “It was something I hadn't really done before. I knew it was going to be a lot of work but I embraced the challenge. It provided me with the opportunity to prove myself to other people.”
Dutkin said he found a solid group of people to help him with the development of C-Safe before the iLaunch competition.
The C-Safe team wanted the technology for the product to be simple because the company is trying to solve human forgetfulness. During the iLaunch competition, members of C-Safe sat down with mentors who gave the company advice on how the simple technology surrounding the company's idea could be better.
Throughout the iLaunch competition, Dutkin said mentors discussed around 400 scenarios with the members of C-Safe that could happen with people using the product. From this feedback, the company chose to add a fail-safe, a feature where if the user's device runs out of battery, he or she still will be notified in other ways if there is a child in the car.
“The whole process has been pitching the product to someone providing suggestions on how to make the product better,” Dutkin said.
What made C-Safe stand out from the rest of the competition during iLaunch was the prototype C-Safe was able to produce quickly. The win gave the company $10,000 to continue to grow.
After winning the iLaunch competition, C-Safe got the chance to become one of the 2017-18 Accelerator companies through the Innovation Hub.
“The Innovation Hub at Research Park provided the platform to get us started,” Dutkin said. “Without the Red Raider Idea Competition, I wouldn't have needed to think of the idea. After that, iLaunch was another platform to continue the growth of the company. They also provided funds. That was one of the biggest things. It's really hard to start a company early on without any funds. After that, we got into the Accelerator program, which is a yearlong commitment with the university. It provided us with the mentors and the funds to keep the company growing.”
As an Accelerator company, the Innovation Hub pairs C-Safe with various mentors, including people who have startups themselves and attorneys who help the company grow. Dutkin said it was important to have the mentors because some of the mentors have gone through what they are going through and know what to and what not to do for success.
Dutkin said after the company's time as an Accelerator company, the Innovation Hub will transition into an incubator for C-Safe. The company will continue to be surrounded by entrepreneurial resources through the Innovation Hub, but the company will have more freedom.
Tully said through his work at C-Safe, he has learned a lot about himself and about other people interacting with startup companies.
“Working for a startup company has been an exercise in self-motivation and self-preservation,” Tully said. “If you want something, you will find a way to make it happen. Gage is a very inspirational leader and, because of him, I realized some of the things that I am capable of.”
As soon as the product is ready for market, C-Safe will sell its product on its website and on Amazon. Dutkin said the product has to go through certain steps before selling it online, including early pilot production, crowdfunding, marketing and preorders for the product.
While operations will continue in Lubbock, Dutkin said he hopes to advertise throughout the United States and around the world. The problem C-Safe is trying to solve is not a Lubbock problem; it is a worldwide problem.
“The biggest challenge we have discovered is the public's perception about this topic,” Dutkin said. “They think parents are purposely doing this and the only way this happens is when it is on purpose.”
Tully said because C-Safe helps prevent accidental deaths of children who are not capable of getting out of the situation themselves, the company is doing a lot of good.
Dutkin said future entrepreneurs have to find the confidence in themselves to put their ideas out into the world. Even though people tell themselves they cannot achieve success or do not have the skills to succeed, Dutkin hopes they find hope and confidence in his company's journey.
“I'm not an engineer, and we have a technology-based product,” Dutkin said. “If you put in the extra effort, you will succeed. There was something I read recently by Tim Ferris out of his book ‘The Four-Hour Work Week' about how there was more competition for mediocrity than for excellence. That has been a motivation of mine now because I see it all the time.”
Tully said without the Innovation Hub's guidance, C-Safe would not be where it is now.
“The Innovation Hub provided us with a meeting place, it provided the competitions themselves and after the competitions, it provided the money we needed to get started,” Tully said. “The Innovation Hub and the staff have been with us every step of the way.”
Dutkin said the addition of the Innovation Hub shows where Texas Tech stands.
“Texas Tech is becoming a big leader in entrepreneurship,” Dutkin said. “There are so many opportunities here that are not provided by other universities in an entrepreneurial sense.”