UT Dallas Magazine

From the Archives: Pair of Comets Has Bright Future

Corey Egan MBA’10 (left) and Swapnil Bora MBA’11, co-founders of ilumi. (Photo by Michael Ainsworth)

Editor’s Note: This is a portion of a story — “Creative Spark” by Thomas Korosec — from the spring 2016 issue of UT Dallas Magazine.

Corey Egan MBA’10 and Swapnil Bora MBA’11 started their business with $5,000 they won in the Jindal School’s 2010 business competition and they haven’t looked back. Their Plano, Texas-based company, ilumi, makes LED “smartbulbs” that allow users to control colors and light levels through a mobile app. The latest model, which retails for $59.99, is available at Best Buy.

“If it were not for the competition, we wouldn’t have come up with the idea,” says Egan, talking at ilumi’s office, where a staff of eight works among boxes of bulbs piled around the desks. Egan, who majored in marketing and entrepreneurship, manages marketing and sales, while Bora, who studied engineering as an undergraduate before earning a graduate business degree, handles the technical side. Neither had any experience with lighting or lightbulbs before they began brainstorming to come up with a new product.

Their concept came from thinking about what Egan calls the “very disruptive” federal mandate that sought to phase out the energy-wasting incandescent bulb. They added in the fact that everyone is now walking around with a computer in their pocket. “We saw those two things meeting and came up with ilumi,” Egan explains.

“If it were not for the competition, we wouldn’t have come up with the idea,” Egan says

After graduation, Egan and Bora took traditional jobs but continued to work on their idea. In the fall of 2012, Egan recalls, “We decided to go all-in and convinced our significant others it was OK not to make a salary for a couple of months.” They turned to crowdfunding, raising pre-orders from a large number of people via the internet, and continued perfecting their LED lightbulb through a series of prototypes.

Egan and Bora stayed in touch with UT Dallas and put one of their former professors on their advisory board. So when Shark Tank producers approached the business school looking for promising contestants, JSOM program director Madison Pedigo approached the two alumni as good candidates.

“We didn’t want to at first but he talked us into it,” Egan recalls. Pedigo says he saw an opportunity for free publicity and knew Egan and Bora would do well given their track record in business school idea competitions.

An array of ilumi smartbulbs. (Photo by Michael Ainsworth)

On the show, which aired in April 2014, Dallas Mavericks owner and billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban struck a deal with the two in which he offered a $350,000 investment for a 25 percent stake in their company.

“During the taping of the show, when Cuban made his offer to us, he started out saying, ‘You know, UT Dallas has some of the smartest kids in the country and it’s right in our backyard. So Swapnil and Cory, I’m going to make you an offer,’” Egan relates. “It was a real nice plug for the University, but it ended up getting edited out.”

Egan says, “We played as many wild cards as possible,” from prize money to several rounds of crowdfunding. They began shipping their first bulbs in 2014 and a year later introduced a second generation.

Either Cuban or someone on his investment team is in touch weekly, and Cuban’s team has been instrumental in opening retail outlets to the startup, Egan says.

Cuban has publicly shown his support for UT Dallas entrepreneurs twice more since buying into ilumi. In 2015, he visited the campus in November as a celebrity judge for the annual Business Idea Competition, and in October, he was one of two Shark Tank investors who sunk $250,000 into Foot Cardigan, which sells colorful custom designed socks by subscription. Tom Browning MPA’05, PhD’09 is one of five co-founders of the Dallas-based startup.

Mark Cuban checks in the ilumi team, which is led by Corey Egan MBA’10 and Swapnil Bora MBA’11.