Two seniors in the School of Mechanical Engineering took the national stage to tout their startups during Opportunity Hub (OHUB)’s HBCU@SXSW pitch competition on March 11 at Huston-Tillotson University, Austin, Texas.
Morgan Fuller and Isaiah Baptiste were competitively selected to join OHUB’s High-Growth Company Building HBCU@SXSW cohort and deliver their presentations during Demo Day in front of a panel of venture capitalist judges. OHUB bills itself as the leading and largest diversity, equity and inclusion initiative of the SXSW Festival and takes place during the interactive and film days of the event. SXSW draws more than 500,000 attendees annually.
Fuller created Invoke, a tool to reduce workplace injuries, with his partner, Tyler Lamar, a Purdue industrial engineering graduate. The pair developed the company through the Burton D. Morgan Business Model Competition.
Baptiste’s startup, Umerge, is an application that leverages machine learning to enhance the university experience and assist students in developing their interests.
INVOKE PLATFORM COULD ‘TOTALLY TRANSFORM’ DECISION-MAKING
Fuller comes from a family of healthcare workers and said he has a passion for creating technology that makes human life more dynamic. His research found that 3.7 million workers are injured on the job every year. In 2019, the most frequently reported injuries were caused by slips, trips, falls, strains/ overexertions, and micro-injuries stemming from repeated overuse of muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints and/or bones. These problems prompted Invoke to find a preventative solution.
“Our first product, ErGo, is a software platform that is designed to offset the cost of workplace injuries,” he said. “We aim to provide haptic feedback to alert workers when they are at risk of injury. We also plan to provide investigative tools for businesses and floor workers to understand how injuries are taking place. These tools will provide cost, risk and injury forecasting of various manufacturing climates.” Fuller added, “Invoke could totally transform our decision-making process.”
Throughout the Burton Morgan competition, Invoke team members conducted extensive interviews with company executives from Eaton Corporation, Conagra, Kimberly Clark, and Northwestern Mutual to validate ErGo.
He hopes his company’s attendance at OHUB provided necessary visibility to secure additional resources and assistance for further development of the product and customer base, adding that Invoke also is looking for industry partners to perform testing and case studies to refine its tool.
UMERGE METRIC COULD BECOME ‘AS POWERFUL AS A STUDENT’S GPA’
Isaiah Baptiste, who will graduate with a minor in business management, said he always has been devoted to helping others discover opportunities. Growing up in Trinidad and Tobago, he collaborated with globally recognized STEM professionals and introduced them to more than 300 Caribbean students.
Baptiste was a sophomore at Purdue at the advent of the pandemic and worked on an autonomous COVID-19 disinfecting robot as part of Purdue’s Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP) program. “This was my first exposure to the resources that Purdue had in innovation and entrepreneurship,” he said. “As operations moved online, I experienced a boost in the volume of emails promoting clubs, activities and events.”
Baptiste said he and his classmates found the abundance of emails cumbersome, and it was daunting to sort out the ones with relevance to their interests. “This difficulty is where the idea of Umerge was born.”
At first, the concept was simple, he said. He localized traffic from extracurricular activities into an app that contained a library similar to Boilerlink, the University’s organization and events management system. “The first pivot occurred when students told me they would use the app initially to discover clubs, but once they found their niche, they would uninstall the app.”
During his involvement with the consulting club Purdue THINK, he said, he uncovered another obstacle — students’ lack of engagement with school resources, adding that many projects and events happen “without any way to discover them beyond word of mouth and knowing the right people.”
This realization gave Baptiste the angle he was missing to take Umerge to the next level — developing the app to allow students to discover opportunities, as well as fostering learning and development though these activities.
He currently is working with the lead developer of Boilerlink to complete the UI/UX phase of the app’s development. He also is learning the Categorical Target Variable Reinforcement Model to later design the algorithm for optimized marketing.
“Next up for Umerge is researching school engagement data and determining a correlation between this, academic performance, dropout rates, and academic completion period,” explained Baptiste. From there, the team will build Umerge’s interest index and test it over time to see if an effective outcome is acquired. Ultimately, Baptiste said, Umerge may be able to create a metric for interest “as powerful as a student’s GPA.”
To make the OHUB trip possible, Fuller and Baptiste received financial support from the John Martinson Entrepreneurial Center, School of Mechanical Engineering, and the College of Engineering Office of Undergraduate Education.