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Starting up

Students get started in business

From left to right, Rachel Willis, Joey DiGangi and Charlie Kovach look over part of their EpiPhone device at the Sill Business Incubator at Juniata College. Their goal is to develop a patent-pending medical device and mobile application to address important issues for those who suffer from severe food allergies. Their company, AssureTech, is housed at JCEL and is a registered LLC in Pennsylvania.

HUNTINGDON — It’s not easy being a student entrepreneur.

“Most student startups fail or never get off the ground,” said Terry Anderson, assistant professor of entrepreneurship and director of the Juniata Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership at Juniata College.

“Any entrepreneur who says he hasn’t failed just hasn’t realized it yet. We teach students that failure is part of the learning process,” he said. “Our focus is to help students learn to be entrepreneurial through problem solving. If you view failure as an obstacle, you will not accomplish anything. Failure is part of that process.”

In a typical school year, between five and 10 students work on business startup projects, and maybe one or two actually “start,” Anderson said.

Anderson teaches a creative problem solving class in which students identify problems and try to solve them. But more importantly, they learn to interview potential customers to validate that the problems are worth solving – something that most entrepreneurs don’t do properly.

Joey DiGangi of Easton, who recently graduated, and his two friends Rachel Willis, of Vero Beach, Fla., who also graduated, and Charlie Kovach of Pittsburgh, who will be a sophomore this fall, are trying to develop a patent-pending medical device and mobile application to address some of the most important issues for people who suffer from severe food allergies.

DiGangi and his team designed an insulating case for the EpiPen or Auvi-Q (the second most popular type of injector) that wirelessly connects with a mobile application.

Whenever a user separates from his or her medication, they will receive a push-notification telling them to retrieve their device. The app also tracks the medication’s last known location and expiration date.

Their company, called AssureTech, is housed in the JCEL and is a registered LLC in Pennsylvania.

“It was formed so we could receive funding,” DiGangi said.

AssureTech received $1,000 through the TechCelerator Bootcamp program and $5,000 through JCEL’s seed capital fund.

An attempt to raise $45,000 through a Kickstarter campaign was unsuccessful.

“We are somewhat disappointed the Kickstarter campaign

wasn’t successful overall, but there are good things that came out of it: We got some positive support from the food allergy community, and this may open things up to future financing options. We are looking for outside funding options. We may be able to secure funding through economic development programs, and we are looking at alternative options,” DiGangi said. “This is a learning experience.”

The fact that AssureTech didn’t receive funding from Kickstarter to move their business into revenue generation isn’t unusual.

“Establishing an LLC allowed him to get into our program. There are a lot of startups that haven’t reached revenue generation yet,” Anderson said. The business established at Sill (Business Incubator) provides him with access to the Keystone Innovation Zone tax credit program.

Anderson said DiGangi has a good idea but he could have done some things differently.

“We support them in their endeavor. We want them to learn by doing, but sometimes that is by failing. He tried a Kickstarter campaign, and we realized that was not the best avenue,” he said. “Rather than get money to build, he should have developed a lower cost MVP — minimal viable product — to give customers something that solves the problem. It’s easy to get caught up in delivering cool technology.

“But it’s important to know how important that is to the customers before spending all your money developing it. He recognizes that he needs to do more customer interviews to see how beneficial the solution is. If you get more feedback from customers, you are more likely to get the right product on the market,” Anderson said.

The future of AssureTech remains up in the air.

“At the moment, the biggest challenge is getting money,” DiGangi said.

“He tried to jump ahead of the process to develop more than a minimal viable product. We have connected him with alumni to slow down and get a better handle on what customers want and what they’ll pay for,” Anderson said.

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