Future entrepreneurs lauded by Rothman Institute at 2012 awards

Silberman College of Business Dean William Moore stands with regional winners A.J. Buono (left) and Jeffrey Kaiser, seniors at Cranford High School, who teamed up to create the Vibrating Wi-Fi Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Alarm for the 2012 New Jersey Business Idea Competition.

By Kenna Caprio

A Vibrating Wi-Fi Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Alarm. A NutriPlate. A My Best Friend —The Virtual Therapist.

All of these winning concepts come courtesy of business idea submissions by high school students throughout the Garden State. Awards were presented to the regional winners, finalists and semi-finalists for the Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurship’s 2012 New Jersey Business Idea Competition at the College at Florham this spring.

“Entries for this year’s competition really impressed us,” says Rothman Institute Executive Director Jim Barrood. “We received a record number — 805 to be exact — and felt that these students really raised the level of excellence for future competitors. We couldn’t be more excited to see what next year’s crop brings to the table.”

A.J. Buono and classmate Jeffrey Kaiser, seniors at Cranford High School in Cranford, decided to create a vibrating smoke alarm after Jeff mentioned that some police cars have a small extension on the front bumper that can emit vibrations for the benefit of the deaf community.

“The Vibrating Wi-Fi Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Alarm is an alarm system that suits the needs of deaf people while incorporating the latest technologies,” says Buono. “The alarm system allows the user to have the ability to control the system as well as receive text message alerts (in case of emergency) while away from home through the Internet.”

The two added the Wi-Fi component after realizing that a vibrating smoke alarm already existed to aid the hearing impaired. “The idea never died,” says Buono, despite the setback because of encouragement from his teacher. The teacher suggested that they tweak the already existing idea and improve upon it. So, when Kaiser and his family were in the process of installing a Wi-Fi thermostat for their vacation home, that’s when the two realized that they could add the Wi-Fi aspect to their idea.

Buono, who plans to attend either Sacred Heart University in Connecticut or St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia next fall to study marketing, is also looking into patenting the idea with Kaiser. “My family and I have a close family friend who is an MIT graduate and holds several patents with the U.S. government.”

For Peri Becker, 15, of Livingston, a small thought gave way to a larger idea too. After her sister suggested a fork that weighs food as an idea, Peri came up with the NutriPlate, incorporating the food scale, a computer chip and the iPhone Siri technology into plate form.

Likewise, Keanu Taylor, 16, of Sicklerville, seized on a seemingly fleeting moment at an assembly on bullying and turned it into a business concept. At the assembly, the presenter mentioned that more half of those bullied actually tell anyone, says Keanu. And that’s how the basis of the My Best Friend —The Virtual Therapist popped into his head.

Essentially the virtual therapist would operate in the form of a website, where customers can talk about anything they want through phone calls and online chatting. “The customers would visit the website whenever they are feeling depressed or just in need of someone to talk to,” explains Keanu. The customer would be able to share their emotions without the fear of anyone finding out.”

To qualify for the competition, entrants have to be a New Jersey high school student, require no outside help, have teacher permission, do research on competitors, describe the idea in 750 words, and include the societal goals and their own personal goals in the explanation.

“The competition was one of the first of its kind at the high school level in the country,” says Barrood. “Colleges had them and we thought it could be effective at a high school level too, so that’s when we decided to launch (nine years ago).”

Judges for the competition included: Michael Maglio, principal and senior advisor at Brinton Eaton - Beyond Wealth Management; Rachel Braun Scherl, New Jersey businessperson and Dennis Shah, New Jersey businessperson. Winners each received $400 plus a prize from the New York Jets.

Part of the Silberman College of Business since 1989, the mission of the Rothman Institute for Entrepreneurship is to teach and support entrepreneurship and innovation in the academic, business and nonprofit communities.

Keanu Taylor (left), a sophomore at Timber Creek Regional High School in Erial, shows off his plaque and poses with Silberman adjunct professor George Maddaloni.

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