Courtesy of Daniel Abaraoha '18

Founder of Vita Shoes Daniel Abaraoha '18, who says he couldn't afford expensive name brand shoes and started his philanthropy-driven company.

August 28, 2016

Cornell Startups Plan to Increase Production, Advertising

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As Cornell kicks off a new semester, many students have more than schoolwork and socializing in mind. For entrepreneurs and startup owners Brian Schiff ’18, Micah Green ’18, Steven Dourmashkin ’15 and Daniel Abaraoha ’18, the new semester means new opportunities for continued product development enhancement.

Troubled by perceived gaps in the transportation industry across American college towns, information science major Schiff and two other students founded RedRoute, Inc. in 351A Court Hall in 2015 as a ride-hailing app for college students. Schiff said that following the company’s acceptance into eLab and initial beta launch in spring 2016, RedRoute raised six figures in seed stage capital.

Brian Schiff '18, one of RedRoute's founders, presents the app at eLab's Demo Day April 14.

Courtesy of Brian Schiff '18

Brian Schiff ’18, one of RedRoute’s founders, presents the app at eLab’s Demo Day April 14.

According to Schiff, RedRoute currently operates in the Ithaca community and is due to expand into Syracuse University later this fall following a contract with the largest transportation operator in Syracuse. Schiff called the upcoming Syracuse launch and increased ridership this fall “a great start to the 2016-2017 school year.”

“Early ride numbers suggest penetration surpassing even the best weeks from last spring,” Schiff said. “Aside from fine tuning smaller issues that are still lingering in the platform, the Cornell student led startup is focused and excited to launch the much-anticipated social aspect of the platform.”

Frustrated by the difficulty of transporting his drum set over long distances, mechanical engineer Dourmashkin and mechanical and aerospace engineer Matthew Skeels ’15, M.Eng. ’16 initially developed Specdrums in 2014 as a wristband to help drummers play drumbeats on black and white surfaces. Specdrums are now capable of detecting over a thousand unique colors and are worn as rings that can be connected to smartphones to produce music.

In April 2016, Dourmashkin and Skeels successfully entered their product into Rev’s Hardware Accelerator, a division of business incubator Rev Ithaca Startup Works.

Founders of Specdrums Matthew Skeels '15 M.Eng. '16 (left) and Steven Dourmashkin '15 (right)

Courtesy of Matthew Skeels '16

Founders of Specdrums Matthew Skeels ’15 M.Eng. ’16 (left) and Steven Dourmashkin ’15 (right)

“When we finished the [Rev’s Hardware Accelerator program] on Aug. 12, we arrived at final electrical and mechanical designs that are fully manufacturable,” Dourmashkin said. “Now we are going through the process of speaking with manufacturers to be ready to produce the rings in larger quantities.”

Because each handcrafted ring currently takes around three hours to assemble, only about 10 finished products have been produced so far, Dourmashkin said. Dourmashkin said that the Specdrums app, available for both Android and iOS, is being beta tested by 20 people. Dourmashkin and his team plan to host a Kickstarter campaign next month to provide funding for the outsourcing of manufacturing with the goal of producing around 500 rings — enough to lower the price enough to make selling feasible.

Dourmashkin also said that he plans to eventually develop additional products, including a Specdrums “foot-pedal” that allows users to tap colored surfaces with their feet.

“We are currently focusing on our just rings, but there are other products we envision in the future,” he said. “We want to develop a suite of app-connected musical wearables that transform color to sound, as part of our vision of making music accessible to everyone.”

An entrepreneurship major at Cornell, Green founded Maidbot in February of last year to provide safe and cost-efficient automated solutions to the hospitality industry. Green, who has experience working as a hotel attendant, developed their first product “Rosie” as an automated floor cleaning system. Green said he plans to eventually create products for larger tasks as well.

“We are still focused on cleaning the floors with our first product, but many ideas have sprung from customer interviews that we will dive into in the coming years,” Green said. “Building a functional hardware product typically takes years, but because of our incredible team of brilliant engineers, we have been able to ‘break records’ and bring a product to potential clients much faster. Many iterations and improvements have been implemented, but the team understands the importance of perfection before rushing to the next product.”

Green said that although Maidbot had been able to attract some “incredible” angel investors early on, after Maidbot was named an Entrepreneurial Eight team at nationwide Student Startup Madness finals in March 2016, many new investors have become interested.

“Finding investors is all about tapping into your network, and that competition introduced me to some key people who helped us raise a substantial amount of funding,” Green said.

Green added that this year they plan to roll out pilots with large hospitality companies and “are very excited to partner with them to validate our value propositions.”

Abaraoha, a sophomore in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, previously told The Sun that he could not afford to buy expensive brand name sneakers when he was younger. In January of 2015, Abaraoha began establishing the Vita Shoes company as an affordable, philanthropy-driven shoe brand, selling almost 200 pairs of sneakers by the start of Aug. 2016.

“Right now, Vita has sold over 180 pairs of sneakers, and with it, have risen [sic] over $300 of funds that we’ll be using to donate supplies to our first partner, Austin Street,” Abaraoha said. “Our manufacturing costs are only about nine dollars, but I had to make a large order initially and sell off sneakers so that I can clear that startup cost — as of today, we’ve made enough revenue to cover the costs and actually make profit.”

Abaraoha said that he primarily uses social media and word of mouth to expand and advertise his business. He said he plans to expand his company’s brand image next year and to increase the number of available sizes and colors for his sneakers.

“I’m currently in the process of trying to get an ethical and Eco-friendly production method for our sneakers, which will take some time but I’m very excited about,” Abaraoha said. “For the rest of the year, I’m just hoping Vita can grow our number of sales so that I’m able to get a huge amount of supplies for Austin Street; we’ll make our donation around the holidays.”