Imagine: A blind person, walking alone, trips over a crack in the sidewalk, falls down and hits his head. His phone flies out of his hand during the fall, and no one is around to see or help him. He is left lying on the sidewalk, alone and in pain, with no way to know how long it may take for someone to find him.
But he is in luck: his cane is equipped with the accessory “Smart Sleeve,” one of whose features is a button that directly dials 911.
Thanks to this accessory, he can signal for help right away.
Sound far-fetched? It’s not.
This idea is the brainchild of two high school students: Nicholas Hyun, a sophomore at Crespi Carmelite High School in Los Angeles, and Philip Nguyen, a junior at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose.
Hyun and Nguyen participated in USC Viterbi’s inaugural Summer Commercialization and Innovation High School Institute (SCIHI). Their presentation on “Smart Sleeve,” whose features also include GPS navigation and a “find my cane” feature, won first place at the final showcase on July 28, the program’s last day when students presented the projects they had developed during the two-week course.
The first week was hosted on USC’s University Park Campus, while the second week took place at the USC Viterbi Startup Garage in Marina del Rey. Participants were a mix of ages, ranging from high school sophomores to rising seniors.
“I thought this was a really interesting mix of engineering, innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Connor Richard, a senior at Loyola High School in Los Angeles. “I’m very interested in all sides of the field. I don’t want to have to limit myself to just the business or engineering sides. I want to work with a mix of both.”
USC Viterbi developed the summer institute with the goal of teaching key concepts of engineering entrepreneurship. Students explored wide-ranging topics, including entrepreneurial team dynamics, technology and strategic assessments, creativity and business model development, and communication to investors and technology managers.
“The students experienced the hands-on, fast pace of innovation environments,” said Andrea Belz, vice dean of technology innovation and entrepreneurship at USC Viterbi. “This was coupled with an intensive course to learn the disciplined strategies of successful commercialization.”
Week one focused on collaboration and teamwork, while week two emphasized planning practical solutions to the problems students had selected during the first week. The teenagers worked together in teams to brainstorm solutions. By the end of the week, all of them had developed an idea for a product addressing a particular problem.
Over the weekend, the students interviewed potential partners in commercialization; Hyun and Nguyen met members of the Los Angeles chapter of Junior Blind of America. The budding entrepreneurs used these interviews to help formulate their business model and inform their prototypes. At the end of the session, the students presented their projects and live demonstrations.
The entire session was led by Rosemary Rohde, an experienced technology entrepreneur with a Ph.D. in chemistry from Caltech; she also has deep expertise in novel approaches to K-12 science and innovation education as the science director for Ad Astra School.
“I’ve always been a scientist, entrepreneur, and an educator at heart, so this class was the perfect blend of my passions,” Rohde said. “I am proud and grateful for the opportunity to share my experience with the next generation.”