From the Soccer Field to an Invention That Scores
13-Year-Old’s Idea to Help Deaf Teammates Gets Boost in UT Dallas Contest
Jan. 4, 2008
Sometimes truly remarkable ideas come at the most unexpected times.
Post-it Notes inventor Art Fry came up with his idea while he was singing in his church choir and his bookmark kept falling out of his hymnal.
Thirteen-year-old Celia Beron’s eureka moment came on a Richardson soccer field two years ago.
The then-11-year-old noticed her teammates, coaches and referees were having a hard time communicating with a deaf player.
Celia’s brainstorm? A device that vibrates and sends visual cues in response to a signal, such as a blown whistle. Celia hopes her idea will help deaf athletes safely take part in sporting events and other activities.
“I just came home from soccer, told my parents about my idea, and we went from there,” Celia said. “To see a deaf athlete participate in the Olympics using this device would be amazing.”
And though it might be hard to imagine that such a life-changing — and simple — product doesn’t already exist, a patent for Celia’s idea was just issued earlier this year.
‘Ref for the Deaf’
The business model for Celia’s invention won the $10,000 grand prize for the best original new business idea at The University of Texas at Dallas Institute for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (IIE) Business Competition. She competed with a team made up of two UT Dallas MBA students and her father, Kurt Beron.
The contest, open to all UT Dallas students, gave a total of $39,000 in cash prizes. Participants had to develop a full-scale business plan for a new product or idea, and entries were judged on originality, market opportunity, value proposition, competitive advantage and feasibility.
The institute, which is part of UT Dallas School of Management, encouraged the formation of teams combining students from management, science, engineering and other disciplines. At the graduate level, where Celia competed, at least two team members had to be UT Dallas students.
Celia learned about the event from her dad, who is a professor in UT Dallas School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences.
“It’s been serendipitous in a way. The patent was issued earlier this year, and avenues within the University were there to create a plan for Celia’s idea,” Kurt Beron said. “ I just wasn’t sure about what to do next. Then I made a call to the School of Management and found out we were eligible for the contest.”
From there, Kurt reached out to Robert Robb, a management professor associated with the institute, who connected Kurt with two business graduate students, Timothy Gutschlag and Jonathan Hoak. Both were thrilled to help develop a plan for Celia’s idea, and in just under two weeks, the new team of four created a proposal they called “Ref for the Deaf.”
“From my position in the UT Dallas MBA program, the idea of being part of a startup business plan had huge appeal,” Hoak said. “Doing this work really meant something.”
Gutschlag agreed it was an amazing opportunity — albeit one that required extensive legwork.
“We conducted in-depth market research and practicability studies,” Gutschlag said. “What we found was that nothing like this exists.”
“The IIE’s programs are designed to engage and educate faculty and students about innovation and entrepreneurship, foster collaboration, support new academic and research initiatives, including cross-disciplinary programs and extend reach beyond the boundaries of UT Dallas,” said Dr. Joseph Picken, the institute’s director. “I certainly hope this experience has inspired the Ref for the Def team — and all those involved — to pursue all available options when it comes to business.”
The judges for the IIE contest included UT Dallas faculty, entrepreneurs and private-equity investors.
“I was impressed with the quality that went into each presentation. All of the competitors had compassion and the desire to start their own business,” said Judge Jeff Williams of Hunt Ventures, L.P. “What the University is doing to help them in that capacity is exciting.”
With their winnings, Celia and her teammates hope to create a prototype. Although no actual business exists that produces Ref for the Deaf, they believe the positive reception by the judges and the University suggests that there may be a market for it.
“We anticipate that the greatest initial demand would be in schools — from kindergarten through high school — where it could lead to a reduction in barriers that hearing-impaired students face, such as in physical education classes and in participation in athletics,” Kurt Beron added.
The group plans to continue their partnership with UT Dallas and the institute. Celia, for one, is optimistic about creating other business ideas.
“It’s been pretty cool to be part of this event,” Celia added. “I’m excited about what we’ll do next, and if I think of something else that can help people then I might invent that, too.”
Before the UT Dallas IIE Business Competition, Celia entered the Richardson Independent School District Invention Convention when she was in fourth grade. As the winner of that challenge, she received the services of the legal firm Baker Botts, who worked with Celia and her family to secure U.S. patent number 7,153,533, which was issued in June.
The IIIE was established at UT Dallas in 2005 as a collaborative initiative of the Schools of Arts and Humanities, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Engineering and Computer Science, General Studies, Management, Natural Sciences and Mathematics and Economic, Political and Policy Sciences. The institute’s programs focus on initiatives in four broad areas: academic and student programs, internal programs and support, community outreach and research.