Previous student contestants and winners of the $10K Competition have gone on to build real companies with products destined for market.
Last year's winner, Novus Packaging Corporation of Jamaica Plain, just introduced its PillowPak inflatable packaging product at a Boston biomedical expo. Novus has been heavily involved in assessing market needs, establishing a manufacturing facility, filing additional patents and improving its product. The firm is also developing a partnership with a local packaging company and is seeking investments for further product development. Beta testing of PillowPak is currently being conducted; Novus expects initial orders by later this year, with other packaging systems due out in early 1995.
"The packaging market is brutal," said Novus' president, Nicholas De Luca (MIT SB '93). "You've just got to find a niche and go for it." Novus is targeting the polystyrene thermal protection market, which it estimates at $50 million per year in the United States. "With our primary technology developed in-house, we can shorten product development cycles and design with manufacturing in mind," Mr. DeLuca said.
The 1991 $10K winner, Stylus Innovation (formerly Dial-a-Fish) is now shipping a software product called Visual Voice. It is a custom control for Visual Basic that allows developers to build sophisticated voice-processing applications such as fax on demand, interactive voice response ("touchtone banking," for example), and voicemail.
In the next two months, Stylus plans to introduce two other products. They are porting the Visual Voice product to IBM Mwave-based boards, inexpensive powerful hardware that's rapidly becoming widely available. The second product, Visual Fax, will allow developers to build robust multi-line fax applications in Visual Basic with Intel SatisFAXtion boards.
Stylus got to this point after licensing their barcode system to the largest distributors of VeriFone for $8 million. (VeriFone is the box used in stores to confirm the validity of customers' credit cards.) The company retained rights to build software, and its first software package focused exclusively on receiving barcode-to- touchtone input. Along the way, employees realized they could make a useful software tool for general-purpose voice processing (e.g., interactive voice response). They launched Visual Voice last November and have been growing at 40 percent per month, with a current annual revenue rate of $1.5 million.
A version of this article appeared in the May 25, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 34).