With their home base in the freshman honors dorms, three University of Florida engineering students are preparing to scale up a company they started in high school with their first consumer product. Band.It is a camera accessory made of soft elastomer that is designed to improve lens grip and reduce wear and tear on equipment.
RDM,LLC – short for research, develop and manufacture – was formed over a year ago when Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering students Domenic Aluise, CJ Cooper, and Elezar Tonev – along with their friend Jacob Barrineau – were all seniors in high school. Last week the company created a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter.com to help bring band.it to market. The team’s goal of raising $10,000 was met and exceeded within the first 24 hours. Websites like Geeky Gadgets took notice, as did the Huffington Post with their article entitled band.it Just Changed the Game for Professional Photography.
“I am not surprised by RDM’s success – just very proud,” said David Whitney, assistant director of UF’s Engineering Innovation Institute, which is a part of the Florida Engineering Experiment Station, or FLEXStation. Whitney began meeting with and mentoring the students last summer, when they drove up from the Sarasota area to spend an afternoon at UF with him six weeks before their classes started. “They were intent on hitting the ground running – both academically and with their business. I knew right away these were very special people.”
The story of these students is unique, and not just because they are executing on a well-planned out business plan amid the fresh challenges of first-year dorm life. The growth of RDM also parallels the story of the college expanding FLEXStation, with the aim of strengthening the state’s role in the global innovation economy. Over the past few years, college leadership had identified the Sarasota region as the perfect place to launch Innovation Station Sarasota County, the first regional extension office of FLEXStation, where they plan to create workforce development programs, forge collaborations with industry, and build student pipelines. As Dean Cammy Abernathy and FLEXStation director Erik Sander were seeking out community partners who could help pull together talent and resources in the region, RDM was forming and seeking out people who would take them seriously.
The college and the company both arrived at Gulf Coast Community Foundation, which is known for its hallmark initiative that aims to nurture innovation in the region: BIG – Bright Ideas on the Gulf Coast. RDM participated in the BIG initiative and made it to the finalist stage. As such, they were given access to mentors in the Sarasota area who helped them improve their business strategies.
“Through those connections, we were introduced to FLEXStation and their goal of making successful young engineers in the Sarasota area with ties at UF,” said Tonev, a mechanical engineering major at UF and chief product officer of RDM. “We continue to work with our mentors and we are fostering relationships within the Engineering college, especially around rapid prototyping.”
In addition to ramping up production of band.it, RDM has plans to research, develop and manufacture additional consumer products, and to create custom solutions for their growing customer base.
Aluise is an electrical engineering major at UF and CEO of RDM. “The college has already been a great resource for planning our immediate futures,” he said.” ‘They are truly allowing us to pursue our passion while attaining our degrees.”
Follow the evolving story of RDM and their new product band.it on Twitter: @cameraband_it.