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Spokane Valley Tech students win startup contest

From left, Da’mon Higbee, Seiji Furukawa and Keegan Tews, all students at Spokane Valley Tech, recently won a startup contest. (Jesse Tinsley)
From left, Da’mon Higbee, Seiji Furukawa and Keegan Tews, all students at Spokane Valley Tech, recently won a startup contest. (Jesse Tinsley)

It’s a real-world application of what they have learned in the classroom.

Three students from Spokane Valley Tech went to Startup Weekend in mid-November, an entrepreneurial event in Spokane where people with ideas for businesses meet with people who can help bring those ideas to fruition.

Everyone with an idea got 60 seconds for a pitch. After that, the ideas are voted on and teams are formed to help with the idea. The goal is to have a product complete in 54 hours.

Central Valley junior Keegan Tews, CV sophomore Seiji Furukawa and University senior Da’mon Higbee are in the advanced engineering course at Spokane Valley Tech, a career and technical education center for high school students. The three worked on a product pitched by twins Megan and Sara Fristoe – an attachment for earbuds to block ambient noise while they are listening to music, keep them in place better and make them cheap for consumers.

The Sili was born.

“It was an actual physical product,” Tews said of why the idea appealed to him. “This is actually a really great idea.”

The product was designed by Karch Polgar, a mechanical engineer who teaches at Gonzaga University. After the design was done, the three students used a 3-D printer to make a prototype, a process that took 13 hours.

“It really does work fantastic,” Polgar said.

For the students, they got to see firsthand how ideas can become reality and use their skills to solve problems.

When asked what they learned at Startup Weekend, it’s wasn’t the science they had been studying to make the product that came to their minds.

“Networking,” Furukawa said.

“The importance of a team,” Higbee said.

Patrick Bisson, the instructor for the Avista Center for Entrepreneurship at SVT, was at Startup Weekend and worked on another product. He was impressed with the Sili and the students’ contribution to the product.

“They were up late and up early,” Bisson said.

The product took first place at Startup Weekend, so the team of 10 that helped with the product will travel to Seattle on Wednesday for the Northwest Battle.

Tews, Furukawa and Higbee were so helpful in the project Polgar has offered them a chance for an internship. The students will help with senior projects in Polgar’s classes for two companies, John Deere and UTC Aerospace.

Bisson said he was impressed that the product cost about 30 cents to make a pair and the box to put three pairs in cost about 75 cents. The suggested retail price of the product can be anywhere from $4.99 to $7.99.

Furukawa said it would be nice to sell them at airports, bus stations or train stations, where travelers are usually listening to music.

“It’s a cheap solution to getting a headache,” Furukawa said.