America’s up-and-coming millennials were represented among the winners in this year’s tecBRIDGE Business Plan Competition. The event, the 15th in the series, awarded the winning teams a share of more than $100,000 in cash and in-kind prizes while recognizing superior and creative plans for commerce.
Tunefly, located in the Twin Stacks Incubator in Dallas, was the tecBRIDGE wild card winner. Their entry, launched in September, specializes in streaming local music for hobbyists, aspiring artists and established performers.
Samuel O’Connell, 26, of Noxen, serves as CEO with a four-member team that created the application. They had recognized that the glory days of record deals opening doors for musicians was rapidly receding into history, creating difficult times for recording artists.
In addition, performing musicians are finding it difficult to generate a fan base, despite the fact that hidden musical gems exist across the country, even among hobbyist musicians. The mechanics of the music industry also now make it difficult for a performer to distribute their creations, despite the existence of popular streaming services.
“The hard fact is that 80 percent of music is now streamed,” said O’Connell. “There has been some comeback of the vinyl LP, but overall, music is now communal and any artist must use the phone to record and deliver because the Internet has spread across the country.”
The Tunefly software was developed in-house, creating what O’Connell called the team’s biggest hurdle. As a group, they possessed graphic design experience, but they also learned to code and create software updates with a commitment for the app to be user-friendly on a phone and not just with PC use.
“The feedback from musicians so far has been very promising,” said O’Connell. “We traveled cross-country to promote the app and gain feedback, and some of the artists using Tunefly already have more than 40 music posts up.”
The revenue stream for Tunefly, according to O’Connell, is being generated in several ways. Topping the list is advertising to users, coupled with payment for premium content without advertising as well as access to exclusive content.
Another millennial team, Fader Plugs from East Stroudsburg University, won the tecBRIDGE collegiate division award for creation of a patent-pending hearing protection device. Blaise Delsino, 25, of Bethlehem, the four-member team’s CEO and co-founder, said the group exploited a market niche that recognized how, at one time, virtually no one thought about gradual hearing loss inevitably creating permanent damage for musicians and workers within airports and industry.
According to Delsino, during 2010 the CDC reported that 26 million Americans ages 20 to 69 were suffering from noise-induced hearing loss of some kind. This comprised 17 percent of the public, generating a huge market for an effective preventative product which Delsino’s audiologist father often called for.
“The ear plugs commonly available are inconvenient and uncool,” said Delsino. “They have to be twisted into the ear canal, fiddled with, and they often fall out because one size does not fit all.”
To fill this market niche, the Fader Plug team created a passive ear plug which they claim to be invisible and discrete. The product allows the user to “dial in” the amount of auditory protection desired, with no power needs in an elegant and form-fitting package that uses mechanical attenuation.
A prototype covered by a provisional patent has been assembled, with an eight to 12-month timeline for retail sales. The units will be assembled in Minnesota, with a $5 cost of production and a retail price of $24.99.
“We’ve beta tested on Kickstart, and will initially concentrate on direct retail sales within the industrial market,” said Delsino.
Cracked Innovations, located in the Scranton Enterprise Center, won the first-place award in the non-collegiate division with a networking application for meeting people called WhatNow. This app, available for use on both iOS and Android, is the creation of a four-member team, headed by Kevin Granville, 39, a Forest City native who jokes he was very late to the Facebook use.
WhatNow exploits the ability of social media to deliver targeted information that is interest-based. Users can connect with people in real time and receive an active data feed of activities that are time saving, allowing spontaneous inclusion with activities.
Users of the app can pull up a data feed that lists who’s doing what, post desires for activities and inform others of an event on both Facebook and Twitter. The app, according to Granville, had a very practical genesis.
“We were in a bar on a motorcycle trip and noticed a gang of females arrive who were alone in the bar,” said Granville. “We made the observation that they needed to connect with other people, and the idea for WhatNow resulted.”
The app also fills what Granville calls a need for youth to get out in real world and away from excessive cyber interaction. The team strived for simplicity during development of the software, which was outsourced to SHO Technology solutions in the Scranton Enterprise Center.
“Our revenue stream flows from advertisers promoting specific equipment to specific users, such as ski equipment to skiing enthusiasts,” said Granville. “Other examples of this include biker merchandise to motorcycle users. We also have other features such as an event coordination app that can produce revenues.”