Events & Media: Birdeez Wins Biz Comp

Bren Students Shine in UCSB New Business Venture Competition
Bird-watching smart-phone application garners the $5,000 first-place prize; team proposing green sourcing for fashion industry continues its success by winning $2,500

Jeff Simeon

Two teams of Bren School students took home cash prizes at the annual UCSB New Business Venture Competition, held May 9 and sponsored by the Technology Management Program at the UCSB School of Engineering.

A team of would-be eco-entrepreneurs, including third-year Bren School master’s student Jeffrey Simeon, received the first-place, $5,000 prize in the  market-oriented category of the competition, for his smart-phone application called “Birdeez.”

The phone app, developed by Simeon and his UCSB student partners, Patrick Toerner, an undergraduate in economics, and Thomas Kuo, whose doctoral work focuses on computer vision, enables bird watchers to locate and identify birds, receive alerts about rare-bird sightings in their area, and save and share their information. The tagline for Birdeez is “Every Bird Counts.”

The judges, who are accustomed to dealing with engineers and business ideas based on new technology, were initially skeptical of a business based on a birding phone app, but were won over by research Simeon presented demonstrating bird watchers’ fanaticism and their willingness to spend abundant amounts of money on their hobby.

Check out the Birdeez app and sign up for the bird-alerts service on the Birdeez website; See the Birdeez on Facebook to track the product's development and to try the beta version when it's ready.

“This team impressed every step of  the way, with both their technology and their business,” said TMP program manager, Mike Panesis, one of the event organizers.

Forget Me Not Sourcing, a team of Bren students in the Eco-Entrepreneurship (Eco-E) focus whose business idea involves greening the supply side of the fashion industry by sourcing sustainably produced materials, also won a special $2,500 award for social entrepreneurship, sponsored by the Central Coast MIT Enterprise Forum. The team was fresh off their recent success in Walmart’s national entrepreneurship competition, in which they and seven other semifinalist teams were flown to Arkansas to present their business idea to a panel of Walmart executives. Read more about the Forget Me Not project.

Simeon explains that the UCSB New Ventures Competition had two tracks: a “technical push” track for engineers seeking marketable directions for new technology, and a “market pull” track for entrepreneurs who were working to meet the needs of an identified market. Birdeez, which Simeon describes as a flexible application that could also be adapted to plants and other animals, fell into the latter.

Each team gave a ten-minute presentation of their idea, which was followed by a Q&A session of about the same length.

Simeon gave abundant credit for his success in the competition to the Bren School’s requirements that students present work regularly, and to Eco-E program manager, Emily Chan.

“Bren requires you to do presentation after presentation, so you’re put to the test all the time, and you’re comfortable and competent at making Powerpoints,” he says. “And having Emily, who’s been involved with businesses of different sizes, started her own entrepreneurial venture, and has background in finance, is really valuable. She asks hard questions and makes us think of things we might not have thought of otherwise – questions you need to answer to know you have a viable business.”

While Simeon says he “wouldn’t mind making millions,” he sees Birdeez as part of an environmental vision.

“Everyone’s had the experience of seeing a bird and wondering what it is,” he explains. “I thought Birdeez would be a good way to get people to engage with the environment and then see other things of value in it as well.

“There is also an interesting dynamic between smart-phone technology and the ability to get people outside and understanding what’s around them as opposed to sitting at  computer, receiving information about the environment while feeling detached from it. I’m confident that what we’re building would be built by someone at some point. We want to be those people.”