Feature – Idea flash

Posted on Mar 4, 2013 :: Features
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Flickey mentor and Lawrence University Professor Emeritus of Physics John Brandenberger stands with members of the Flickey team, Dan O’Connor, George Levy, Siddhant Dayal (sitting) and Nathan Fearing, who display a prototype of their movie kiosk. The Lawrence students are learning what it takes to launch a business idea off the ground.

Innovation meets optimism in hot ideas: Flickey, MediCoping

What do you get when you combine a few enthusiastic college students, a wide range of diverse backgrounds and one innovative idea? The answer may be the next big hit in portable digital entertainment.

“It’s a way for people to enjoy their favorite movies or TV shows when they want, wherever they want,” says Siddhant Dayal, a recent Lawrence University graduate and driving force behind the “movies in a flash” concept – using portable flash drives rather than DVDs or the Internet to watch movies.

Perhaps the more perplexing riddle, however, is what it will take for these young entrepreneurs and others to get their new business up and running.

Movies in a flash

Aptly named “Flickey,” the media delivery model is Dayal’s brainchild, and Lawrence classmates Daniel O’Conner, Nathan Fearing and Aimen Kahn joined the project. While the group’s academic interests run the gamut from music performance to economics, they came together with a common purpose – to come up with an innovative, original concept and present it as a viable business venture. Thus Flickey was born.

The idea involves movie kiosks which transfer encrypted media onto portable flash drives compatible with multiple viewing platforms like TVs or computers, bypassing the need for an actual DVD. Users plug their Flickey drive into their preferred viewing device and can enjoy a movie on the go without the need to rely on Internet access. When the rental period is over (three to five days), the movie expires automatically and disappears from the flash drive.

“We have an encryption system we’ve been using from a computer science course,” explains O’Conner.

The students were challenged to come up with the idea in another college course, Lawrence’s “In Pursuit of Innovation.” It was there that their diversity soon taught them a valuable life lesson in business partnerships.

“We quickly realized there were some things each of us were very good at and some things we were not,” says Dayal. Together, their individual talents resulted in a creative team with the necessary technical expertise as well as the external relations skills required to present their idea to investors.

Medical maze management

Suamico’s Chris McNeill Bivins also found inspiration in lessons learned back in college. A nationally certified child life specialist with a degree in psychology, Bivins wanted to put her education to work in her own way.

“I wanted to use my child life skills working with children and families to help them cope with trauma, illness and loss,” says Bivins.

Bivins launched MediCoping LLC less than a year ago and now serves families coping with difficult medical situations, as well as helps people navigate their way through an often baffling health care system (on the web: medicoping.com). For Bivins however, that’s the easy part. What’s not so easy is the other side of her business.

“The accounting, the taxes, the paperwork, the licensure, those things have been a huge challenge for me,” she explains.

Bivins’ challenge is not uncommon for people starting their own business, says Al Hartman, professor of management and human resources at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Hartman emphasizes the importance of networking as a way to connect with people who can help you over that hurdle.

“Find partners or mentors who have an interest and expertise in those areas,” he says.

Which is exactly how Bivins found some of her most valuable advice.

“I met someone recently who said, ‘Oh, you don’t have a website? Well, you can do it really easily. Here’s how I did it,’” she explains. “So now I’m working on a website. I met someone else who said ‘If you’re going to charge fees you want to be able to use a credit card. Here’s this company or this service.’”

Flickey: Finding funds

Flickey’s creators also face one of the primary hurdles small business hopefuls encounter – funding. Capitalizing on the high demand for Bollywood movies (three times that

of Hollywood movies), the group turned to India for Flickey’s initial deployment. After a lot of legwork and persistence, a Bollywood producer liked their idea and agreed to give them content (movie licensing) – provided they had investors. Yet the investors they’d approached wanted content before they committed capital. Flickey was stuck in a “chicken and egg” situation. But not for long, as the persistent team used the roadblock to point them in a new direction.

“Now that we know what both sides want, we need to get early seed capital and approach lower end distributors that have 10 or 15 titles, not 750 titles,” explains Dayal.

One potential local source for that kind of funding is Angels on the Water, an angel investment fund in Oshkosh which provides seed and early stage funding for new entrepreneurs in Northeast Wisconsin.

Hartman, who serves as chair of Angels on the Water’s provisional board, offers some practical advice on how entrepreneurs can make their business appealing to investors:

» Does your business solve a problem or meet a need?

» Be able to describe your customer and be specific. (Do not say “everybody.”)

» Develop a good team of well-rounded advisors and mentors.

» Be able to explain how investors will get their money back.

» Look for people who have an interest and/or expertise in your business.Consider their investments in time and knowledge which is often more valuable than money alone.

Seeking investors for the Flickey project, Dayal recently made a presentation to Hartman and Angels on the Water with promising results.

“At this point we haven’t made a commitment, but it’s (Flickey) got the opportunity to go nationwide,” says Hartman, describing the high impact potential that makes a new business appealing to investors.

As for Flickey’s future, its creators say the sky’s the limit.

“The future is not on hardware or in physical bandwidth; it’s in electronic digital distribution, via the cloud (computing),” says Dayal. “That’s where we want Flickey to be.”