Reem Alattas, the inventor of a next-generation bike helmet and a student-entrepreneur from the University of Bridgeport (UB), has won $12,000 at the CT Next Entrepreneur Innovator Competition, including a $10,000 Grand Prize and the $2,000 Judges’ Favorite Award.
Alattas is earning a PhD in Computer Science and Engineering at UB, making her one of just two student-entrepreneurs to advance to the final rounds of the September 14 competition. It was held at The Space in Hamden, CT, and was sponsored by CT Next, the early-stage division of Connecticut Innovations, the state’s business-financing arm.
“I can’t believe it! I was competing against professionals. I didn’t have friends or family with me last night, but I felt the support from the UB faculty who were there,” said Alattas, who named her helmet Rumble.
Loaded with GPS tracking, Rumble includes an alert system that warns cyclists when surrounding traffic gets too close and automatic directional signals operated by a tap of a button. The signals, which are called “branches,” flash left, up, down, or right, depending on a cyclist’s direction.
Alattas began developing the helmet soon after she finished a New Product Commercialization class at UB in the spring of 2014.
The timing was fortuitous.
Within a year, the University opened its doors to its new Student Entrepreneur Center (SEC). There, a team of professionals, called entrepreneurs in residence, provide free help to UB student-entrepreneurs who apply for acceptance into the program. Alattas was among the first to be accepted. SEC faculty, including her mentor Mike Roer, have helped her to file legal documents and fine-tune her business plan, she said.
She has also polished her sales pitch, which was critical to winning at the Shark Tank-styled event on Thursday, where she was one of 10 finalists. (The CT Next panel of judges included: Doug Campbell, of Angel Investor Forum; Donna Cyr, from UConn Health Center; Liddy Karter, of Connecticut Venture Group; Patricia McLaughlin, Governance & Research Analyst, Connecticut Economic Resource Center; and Ripi Singh, Plus4Pi.)
“As her coach I shared in the thrill of victory, but the success is all Reem. She did UB proud,” said Roer.
This is not the first time that Alattas has impressed judges; in May, she won $500 at the Connecticut New Venture Competition. But she called the $12,000 prize money from CT Next “a turning point for Rumble,” allowing her to make a prototype and begin product testing later this year.
If all goes well, Rumble will go to market in 2018.
Alattas’s victory also represents her insistence on forging her own way, As a girl growing up in Saudi Arabia, she said, “I was not supposed to ride bikes, but my parents gave me one anyway.”
While other children played video games, she rode the bike endlessly, up in the mountains overlooking her family’s summer home in Ta ’if. And while she sometimes fell, she never owned a helmet.
“I used to see them on kids in movies, but they weren’t available,” she recalls. “I always wanted one.”
At the CT Next competition, she noticed she wasn’t just one of two students in the room, but also the only female to advance to the final rounds. As competition began, she added, “I felt the support of every woman who was there,” she said. “I feel great!”
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