Anthony Occidentale and Doug Petro with a model of Bandless, their over-ear Bluetooth headphones with no connecting band.
The summer plans of most 20-year-olds probably include some combination of beach, pool and TV.
But Doug Petro and Anthony Occidentale are aspiring entrepreneurs. The Bergenfield residents plan to spend their summer in an MIT dorm room, getting their fledgling business off the ground.
Petro and Occidentale are more than lifelong friends—their mothers knew each other while they were pregnant. "The thing about us is we always had invention ideas," Petro said.
They worked on them all through high school, entering science fairs, and continued to share ideas through college, where they both study mechanical engineering—Petro at Rowan University and Occidentale at MIT. Their business started with one idea Occidentale had while walking from class.
"I had on a pair of ear buds and I was trying to get them to stay in my ears and as I kept walking they kept falling out," he said.
Occidentale is a working DJ. He has a nice pair of headphones but they're too bulky to carry around for daily use.
"I would love to have something I can carry around like ear buds, but as good sound quality and comfort as headphones," he said.
Petro and Occidentale hope Bandless is the answer. That's the name they've given to the headphones they're developing: Bluetooth-connected over-ear headphones with no connecting band that snap together and fit into your pocket.
As it happens, MIT launched a program in January for aspiring entrepreneurs: StartIAP, which runs during MIT's four-week Independent Activities Period. The program teaches students that a successful startup takes more than a great idea.
"A lot of folks, especially engineers, think, as long as you build a great product, customers will come," Kyle Judah, program director at MIT's Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, said. "It's very rarely the case."
Petro and Occidentale applied and were accepted into the program. They learned about customer research, spending time asking strangers at Best Buy what bothered them about headphones. They decided to focus their product on a niche: DJs. They conducted Skype interviews with jockeys from around the world, from Australia to New Jersey.
When school started again, they had less time for the project, but they plan to work on Bandless, where Occidentale is working as a resident assistant. They've started a GoFundMe to cover their expenses.
"I'm basically sleeping on his floor," Petro said.
They hope to create a working prototype to show potential investors. Petro said he knows the odds: Every entrepreneur who talked to them at StartIAP said they failed multiple times before finding success.
"It might not end up being something, but at least we're this young," he said. "If we start failing now we'll end up having something great in the future, or we might hit it big this first time."
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