It is often said that the best innovations are born out of frustration. Here at Blair Academy, students are encouraged to create and develop their own solutions to the problems they face around them.
To hear more about L1NKUP, please watch the video below:
In 2018, Thomas Engel ’20 and Rob Rucki ’20, sat in the Chiang-Elghanayan Center for Innovation and Collaboration during a Business Club meeting. Brainstorming ideas for a project, other students mentioned their frustration with their Blair ID card, including how often they’re misplaced or the inconvenience of pulling them out during the winter.
“One student had the idea of decals on the back of our phones to replace our Blair IDs, but we realized that not every student has their phone on them 100 percent of the time,” Thomas recalled. “That’s how our business was born.”
Later, John Boellhoff ’21, Matthew Brooks ’21 and Liam Junkermann ’19 joined the team. L1NKUP, as described by John, is a smart wristband that is programmed into Blair’s door locking system and payment function. The wristband, made of rubber and plastic, is durable and waterproof so it can be worn 24/7.
With their idea in place, the current team of Thomas, John and Rob got to work. After extensive research to determine if a similar product existed (the answer was yes), the team worked with Blair’s Dean of Students and Business Club advisor Carm Mazza and Chief Operating Officer Jim Frick to begin the process of implementing the system at Blair.
“It turns out the system is very similar to what Disney World uses in their parks,” Thomas said. “We knew the manufacturer already existed, so we just had to establish our business and the programming to work with it.”
Under the guidance of Mr. Mazza and Mr. Frick, the team created prototypes of the product.
They then worked together to establish their business, including creating their brand, working with Blair’s technology office and more. According to the team, the biggest struggle was opening a bank account.
“All three of us are international students, so Mr. Mazza took us to four different banks before we were successful in opening an account,” Thomas noted. “It was a hurdle we didn’t expect, but it was a great lesson in starting a business.”
After a successful trial period, the wristbands were offered for purchase to the Blair community in fall 2019. Mr. Mazza noted how proud he was of the team for their drive to make L1NKUP a reality at Blair.
“It’s not often that a group of students are able to work well enough together to make their dream a reality,” Mr. Mazza said. “Although I am their advisor, I’ve taken a step back to let them make their own decisions. They’ve put endless hours of work into this project.”
When asked about their favorite part of the development process, the team noted how amazing it was to see everyone in their element.
“I was more like the thinker, helping to create a business plan to really get us off the ground,” Thomas said. “John is our finance guy, he really understood the fiscal responsibility and what we needed to do to make this a reality. Rob is our spokesperson, who also worked in every other area to make sure L1NKUP was successful.”
The team noted their current goal is to expand L1NKUP to include stores in Blairstown such as Dale’s Market and Gourmet Gallery. This will include working with developers, who they are currently looking for, to create a shared system for currency exchange. The team also hopes to bring L1NKUP to other schools in the area to use on their campuses.
“Our ultimate dream is to continue developing this business after we graduate from Blair, with a target of introducing it around the world,” Rob said. “With the right support and development, L1INKUP could eventually replace credit cards, ID cards and more.”
L1NKUP is currently available for students and faculty to purchase for $25 in the School Store. To learn more about L1NKUP and how you can get involved, email Carm Mazza at firstname.lastname@example.org.