Often, everyday problems can fuel the innovation of the future — if combined with critical thinking, collaboration and passion.
For Boston University seniors Kiana Ghamarifard and Michael Eschmann, a problem they discovered in their shared hobby inspired a new product.
After a friend told the pair about losing an Apple Watch in the ocean, the surfers crafted an ocean-friendly technology for water athletes to keep their watches on tight.
“That was the lightbulb moment,” said Ghamarifard, a Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences student. “The entire first semester of our junior year, which was 2019, we focused on really trying to see [if] it was possible.”
The idea eventually inspired “Kahila” — a protective, buoyant case for Apple Watches.
This bright-colored, customizable case balances hard rims to protect the watch from damage with a buoyant texture to help it float. Ghamarifard and Eschmann officially signed for their startup in November 2019, and are in the process of prototyping now.
“Essentially, we thought buoys float so we wanted to combine the idea of having a watch that can float,” she said, “and there really hasn’t been anything out there.”
Besides the function of their product, Ghamarifard said another key purpose of the case is providing people with confidence while doing their sports.
“We want people to maximize their sport and not have to worry about losing their watch,” she said. “Knowing that you have something on your hand that’s … tracking all your sports, all the measurements, speed, everything like that. And to be able to track that while you’re really performing at your 100 percent.”
BU’s Engineering Product Innovation Center and BUild Lab assisted the pair in launching their start-up. Eschmann, a student in the College of Arts and Sciences, said working with these BU centers allowed them to collaborate with many different individuals.
“The biggest privilege and opportunity was the amount of different people with incredible specialties that we came across while trying to create this product,” Eschmann said, “and that was directly a causation of the BU BUild Lab.”
Some of the assistance the duo received was from BU Law students who helped them with legal advice, Ghamarifard said, as well as graduate students in the Emerging Media Studies program.
Eschmann said the pair went through the “walk, run, fly” stages at [email protected]’s Innovation Pathway, which guided them through every step in the idea execution process. The team was eventually awarded a $1,000 grant from the BUild Lab.
Eschmann said they currently have a “digital mold casting” ready for print, but are looking for prototype designers and in-country suppliers.
“To be able to get a physical product in our hand, that’s the next step,” he said.
Regarding his collaborations with BU’s entrepreneurship programs, Eschmann said he is thankful for the “collaborative nature” of the project.
“Teams are really helpful for a reason,” he said. “Diversity of ideas, mindsets and outlooks can not only improve the performance of the product but it improves the performances [of] us as humans.”
The pair said their complementary strengths were beneficial for their work.
Ghamarifard, a health sciences major, said her more detailed-oriented approach helped tackle problem-solving aspects of their business, while Eschmann, studying international relations, helped capture the big-picture idea of the project.
“Our majors focus on different aspects that allowed us to focus on different things and then bring that together,” Ghamarifard said, “it helped us really collaborate well together.”
Eschmann said the COVID-19 pandemic posed a challenge for their start-up. However, he added the pandemic pushed the two entrepreneurs to explore marketing on e-commerce and social media platforms.
Above all, the pair said Kahila is a passion project and learning experience. Eschmann said the path to making this project has been valuable in itself.
“We learned quickly that for young people like us, this was about the journey, not so much the destination,” he said. “This was really going to be a learning project that really stemmed from passion to collaborate.”
Eschmann added he has learned a lot from this process and is looking forward to future pursuits.
“I was really just trying to enjoy the journey and the process because there’s so much to learn,” he said, “every step of the way of being an entrepreneur.”