TCU students have bright future with high-tech party glasses

Posted Sunday, Jul. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Three TCU entrepreneurs hoped to raise $15,000 to start manufacturing their high-tech party glasses through Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website for donors to chip in to help launch upstarts.

It took six days to blow past that goal. And by the time the Kickstarter campaign ended at midnight July 1, 1,813 investors had pledged $78,128 to help the team make their prototypes a reality.

Their project is DropShades, light-up party glasses that react to music using “audio-responsive” technology. The glasses look a little like dancing venetian blinds. They don’t have lenses; they are based on a shutter-style frame with horizontal bars. The glasses sense the intensity of the music and LED lights flash to the beat .

“It has been a tough project for us but we love the product and like the industry were going into,” said DropShades’ chief engineer, Nick Cate, 22, a Tustin, Calif., native who graduated from TCU in May with a degree in mechanical engineering. “We see it as an awesome learning experience and we are having a great time, honestly.”

The project raised the most money of any Fort Worth-based projects listed on Kickstarter’s website.

The partners in Fort Worth-based DropShades are CEO Harrison Herndon, 21, a TCU senior studying political science and energy; and Skylar Perkins, 22, a TCU senior studying entrepreneurial business. Perkins, of Laguna Beach, Calif., is the company’s chief operating officer.

After making six prototypes, the men are finalizing design work and expect to begin manufacturing shortly and start shipping the glasses this fall. They hope the $39.95 glasses will be a hit with young people at music festivals, concerts and clubs. They’ve already sold about 700 pairs through preorders on their website plus 1,800 more via Kickstarter.

Paper clips and duct tape

The idea was born at a concert in late 2011 when Herndon spotted sound-activated shirts that lit up in response to the music. But the lights are hard to see in a crowd, he said, so the friends decided to create glasses as a way for the light show to be more visible, said Herndon, who also is a disc jockey.

Cate drilled holes into plastic sunglasses frames, mounted a circuit board onto an arm and attached electroluminescent wire to the slats. A microphone connected to a signal processor translates the sound across the slats.

“Trying to get the glasses made was a process. I was using a RadioShack soldering iron and some paper clips and duct tape,” Cate said.

Along the way, the three have learned a lot about what it takes to start a business, including hiring engineers, designing prototypes and securing insurance and patents.

“Some of the hardest things are just some of the smallest details in dealing with the manufacturing and design process,” said Herndon, an native of Overland Park, Kan. A lot of people think think you can just take an idea or a prototype to a manufacturer make and say ‘make this.’ There are just a lot of moving pieces that involved bringing a product to market.”

Along the way, the team sought advice from TCU alumni and help from experts at TCU’s Neeley Entrepreneurship Center.

“These guys have really been very smart about how they approached their project,” said Brad Hancock, the center’s director. “I think they’re more focused. A lot of students at TCU and across the nation have the desire, and they may come up with an idea and they lose focus. But they kept asking questions. They kept moving the ball forward.”

Funding from the Kickstarter campaign will pay for manufacturing expenses, including building a 400-pound plastic injection mold, which is necessary to produce the first run of 5,000 glasses.

Raising money

To get help with financing, the group turned to Kickstarter of New York, which helps people with creative projects raise money.

DropShades’ page on Kickstarter features pictures of the group making the prototypes and a promotion video with footage of the glasses in use at Brownstone restaurant in the West Seventh Street development.

When the initial fund-raising goal was surpassed, DropShades added “stretch goals,” additional funding targets with reward incentives: Dropshades would give backers a microfiber protection case when they reached $25,000 in pledges, a white frame at $40,000 and a glow-in-the-dark frame at $50,000.

Pivotal to the success of the campaign were the group’s efforts through social media, engaging with supporters and piquing the interest of technology websites and blogs, Herndon said. In the final 10 hours of the campaign on June 30, they organized a “Coordinated Facebook Blitz” to recruit more backers.

They asked supporters to post a link to the DropShades Kickstarter on their Facebook page at 6 p.m. That day, they raised $5,747, the most of any day in the campaign, according to Kicktraq, a tool to track Kickstarter projects.

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326 Twitter: @jessamybrown

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