Engineering student entrepreneur poised to take technology to the marketplace
"Better technology for a brighter future." This idea is what launched Tucker Russ's entrepreneurial senior design project - Safebriight - into first place at the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship InNOLEvation™ Challenge.
Russ, who graduated from the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering in December 2016 with his bachelor degrees in both Electrical and Computer Engineering, came up with the idea after realizing street lights that lose power can take months to be noticed and years to be repaired. Russ also noted that street light outages area a cause for concern when it comes to public safety.
"Street light outages have a big impact on public safety, especially on college campuses where many crimes occur after dark. It is not unusual for a college campus to have as many as 25 percent of its street lights out on any given night. This decades-old technology is ripe for disruption by new smart technologies," noted Russ.
Realizing the potential to solve this public problem, Russ met with Dr. Mike Devine, Entrepreneur in Residence at the College of Engineering to create his own senior design project. As Russ worked with Devine to define his project over a two-semester period, Safebriight was created. The Safebriight project used a smart device equipped with sensors and wireless mesh technology, which was retrofitted to an existing street light to monitor its functionality. The system was designed to monitor the time, location, and type of outage, and instantly communicate this information to the utility maintenance company. The detailed information provided by Safebriight saves the maintenance crew from having to manually assess the problem on site, allowing the light to be quickly repaired, restoring public safety.
Russ credits his mentor, Devine, for helping develop his idea from a proposal all the way through to a prototype. Devine who teaches the Technical Entrepreneurship & Commercialization course at the College of Engineering, helped Russ learn how to commercialize his design by developing a business model. This effort got him and his senior design team chosen to enter their project in the first annual Technology Pitch Competition held at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering in 2016, during which his team won first place.
As he continued to refine his business model, Russ ended up competing as a one-man team in the FSU Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship InNOLEvation™ Challenge. Focusing on the problem of street light outages affecting the safety of drivers and pedestrians, Russ showed how his design idea was an attainable solution. Despite stiff competition, Russ went on to win the Mark K. Scott Infinity Fund Prize of $10,000 - one of two first place awards.
What started out as an idea for an entrepreneurial senior design project has changed Russ' life for the better. While he acknowledges that it was very challenging to keep-up with developing his business pitch and model, and keep-up with a full class load as a dual engineering major, it's safe to say that Russ' sacrifices were well worth it.
While not every senior design project is suitable for commercialization, after competing in several entrepreneurial pitch events, Russ is confident his design is highly marketable. "Once I figured out the problem and could easily communicate it to administrators and utility maintenance and support personnel, the solution I came up with was then much simpler to figure out. The final design would not have been possible without the original prototype derived from my senior design team I led the previous semester. This helped me better understand what was required for my idea to work," added Russ. Since graduation, he has decided to commercialize his idea - every entrepreneur's dream come true!