Photo courtesy of Matthew Skeels '16

September 21, 2017

Cornell Startup Wins First Place at Entrepreneurial Competition

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Earlier this month, Specdrums, a startup founded by two Cornell alumni and started on a project team, came in first place for the Red Bull Launchpad competition and got invited to attend the TechCrunch Disrupt event in San Francisco.

Specdrums, created by engineering alumni Steven Dourmashkin ’15 and Matthew Skeels ’16, creates app-controlled rings worn by the user that produce different sounds upon contact with colors on everyday objects.

Dourmashkin and Skeels came up with this business idea while on the same engineering project team at Cornell. Out of this project team came a partnership and a friendship that began during undergraduate years and persists today, as they continue to develop the startup after graduation.

This partnership led to the creation of Specdrums, inspired by their collective musical interests. Dourmashkin, a drummer, said both were both interested in exploring different platforms or ways of playing and creating music.

“Besides tapping on a screen, how can we make playing music the most portable way?” Dourmashkin said of Specdrums. “We did some research and realize[d] using colors is really nice because they are everywhere. You can turn any object into an instrument and start playing music.”


Attendees of the TechCrunch Disrupt event test out Specdrums.

Photo Courtesy of Nicholas Lea Bruno

Attendees of the TechCrunch Disrupt event test out Specdrums.

Dourmashkin and Skeels began the project three years ago. After launching a Kickstarter campaign, they wanted to give the business even more exposure.

With this thought in mind, Dourmashkin, as the main coordinator of Specdrums, applied to the Red Bull Launchpad Competition — an entrepreneurial competition. To participate, projects need to submit a video business pitch.

Dourmashkin attributed the team’s success, beating out over a hundred competitors, to their well-developed and detailed business plan, made possible through their three years of consistent improvement and adaptation.

The Red Bull Launchpad project provided the winning team the ability to present its startup at the TechCrunch Disrupt event in San Francisco. At the event, the team was able to showcase its product, make connections with investors and leaders in various business industries and to learn from other entrepreneurs.

As the winner, the Specdrums team earned a spot in the startup alley of the conference. In addition to conversing with other entrepreneurs who had gone through similar experiences to gain insight, the team also met with many potential manufacturers and looked forward to following through with investors who had shown interest to discuss collaboration.

“We are planning to go to the office of Red Bull in Santa Monica to see how we can work together. There are a lot more opportunities beyond just the event,” Dourmashkin said. “Red Bull — that values innovation and startup — can also connect us with artists and musicians. They will allow our business to gain more exposure that is not just through the press.”

In terms of advice for budding entrepreneurs at Cornell, Skeels emphasized the value in getting mentorship and seeking help as an undergraduate.

“It’s important to ask for help. There are a lot of people who are willing to help at Cornell,” Skeels said. “Find those mentors, and get to know them, and to not be afraid to approach them to ask them for advice.”