Student Innovator of the Week
CTO of Dragon Lights
Please provide your 30-second pitch about your company.
My name is Max Karpawich, I am 15 and I act as the CTO of Dragon Lights, a social networking company that reinvents holiday decorations as a fun, easy, and social experience. We sell custom-made lights with varying degrees of complexity, accommodating for a wide array of users, from professional designers to little children. These lights can be designed using our intuitive app to have beautiful arrays of colors, and those designs and ideas can be shared on our website for encouragement, feedback, and social engagement. By providing our own custom-made lights, we are revamping the inefficient decorative lighting industry that exists today.
What was the inspiration behind your company idea?
Our company was inspired by a previous project, known as “HoliLights,” that our founder and CEO, Erika Wentz posted on the DIY maker website, Instructables. This project and Dragon Lights were part of a class on “Design Thinking, Innovation and Entrepreneurship” that we were taking at our school, The Derryfield School. HoliLights featured a set of generic color-changing lights wrapped around a holiday wreath, presenting an easy decoration for the maker community. Erika came up with the idea for this project one day when she realized that due to her commitments to school, sports, and a social life, Erika simply lacked the time to put up her beloved Christmas decorations. With that problem in mind, Erika set out to create a set of lights that were “make once, use year-round” so that she didn’t have to go through the hassle of switching decorations every holiday. Following the project, our team discovered during a brainstorm session the potential of turning HoliLights into a full-scale product that, combined with an accompanying social network, could transform how society interacts with decorative lighting by providing the opportunity for people across the spectrum to share homemade arrangements by using light strips of varying customizability.
How was BizGen a valuable experience and what discoveries did you make through the competition process?
BizGen was a valuable experience because it provided a safe environment in which I, as a high school student, could experience the competitive world of startups without having to actually create a real company, much like how mock trial allows students to experience the judicial process without actually becoming a lawyer. One important lesson I learned while at the competition with my team is that you should always be ready to improvise when pitching your startup. Focus on answering those questions expected at every startup pitch, but don’t expect the judges to conform to your idea of how the pitch will go. A second lesson I learned at BizGen is that you need a dedicated team, because with dedication comes hard work and honesty.
What’s the best advice you have received about startups?
As Eric Ries talks about in The Lean Startup, a startup should be built like a car rather than a rocket ship, always prepared for change. Applying that mindset to your pitch can both guarantee a smooth presentation and show investors a small example of how your team is capable of pivoting your company in a new direction. The advice that we were given formally during BizGen was a bit uneven. During the pitch, when we finished our presentation, we asked, “Any questions,” and one judge responded with, “Do you have any questions for us?” I think that BizGen should consider implementing some form of formal feedback that inexperienced teams such as Dragon Lights could benefit from. While modeling the real startup world is great, I felt that my team would’ve enjoyed having some informal feedback on both our pitch and our business. We did have a moderator come up to us later to say, “I just wanted to tell you that your pitch was outstanding. You just happened to be in a tough group with ChemiCube.”
What was the most challenging part of developing and pitching your startup idea? What are your thoughts now about starting your own company, either now or later?
The most challenging part of developing and pitching Dragon Lights was meeting set deadlines for all of the essential parts of the pitch, including the slide deck, the executive summary, and the business plan. This struggle originated, however, in the brainstorming process. Dragon Lights was conceived after our team failed to agree on which of the previous ideas we should pick. We ended up choosing Dragon Lights not because it was the idea that everyone was personally invested in but because it seemed the best suited idea for a business. At times, the way that the idea originated hampered our motivation to get the work done as a cohesive team. In terms of starting my own business, this competition has certainly given my dreams a reality check as to the risk that you take when developing your own company. If there was any time I would be looking to either start a company or create the idea and framework for one, I would say it would be during my senior year in high school or in college, because if all else fails, I don’t have to find a new job or struggle for income: I just keep on going to school.
What does the future look like for the company you pitched at BizGen?
To be honest, the future for Dragon Lights as a business is limited at this point. Dragon Lights was a good idea that was pitched well but suffered in the execution. Had the team executed it well, Dragon Lights might be in a different position right now and be viable as something more than a company created for BizGen. That said, the primary goal of attending BizGen was to learn about the world of startups and entrepreneurship by getting a feel for the real world of pitching. So, in terms of achieving our goals, BizGen was a success for the Dragon Lights team, just not the success it might have been in terms of it actually growing into a business. Because I have this experience under my belt, I would be much more inclined to start a business out of a future BizGen competition as I now have a much clearer idea of how I would want the business to grow.
The majority of our team went off to college, leaving behind only a few of us. If you want to contact me, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org