While pursuing her MBA degree at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business in 2019, Evening MBA alumna Dr. LaVonda Brown enrolled in Professor Arn Rubinoff’s “Legal Issues of Tech Transfer” course, which ultimately inspired her to start her company, EyeGage.
“My tech startup was born at Scheller,” Brown said. “I wrote my first strategic business plan for EyeGage and filed for a trademark [while I was a student].”
EyeGage Becomes a Reality
Prior to her beginning her MBA journey at Scheller, Brown began studying eye tracking in 2012 while she was earning her Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Georgia Tech. She worked with robotics, but she also used eye tracking as an indicator for engagement levels. Brown always thought she would apply eye tracking to the education world, but once she was in business school, she realized education is a saturated market. She then shifted her focus to drug screening.
“I had gone through an experience where I lived with a loved one with a drinking problem and that also led me to the drug screening market,” she said.
The three years Brown lived with her loved one allowed her to see the visible changes to the eyes as intoxication increased. She saw how pupils would dilate and become unresponsive. When she enrolled in Professor Rubinoff’s course, the lightbulb went off for her to start EyeGage.
“I turned my pain into passion,” Brown said.
Thanks to the combination of her eye-tracking expertise, personal experiences, and the skills she learned in the MBA program, EyeGage was born. EyeGage is a drug screening technology company that uses a mobile app to analyze characteristics of the eye to prevent fatal road accidents. EyeGage employs AI recognition and analysis algorithms that can be deployed on an iPhone device or computing apparatus with an embedded camera.
EyeGage recently launched its crowdfunding campaign, “Getting You Home Safely with the Blink of an Eye,” to raise $100,000. The crowdfunding campaign will bring the EyeGage product to market, focusing on several areas that include research and data collection, algorithm development, and five new mobile app features.
“EyeGage is tackling the problem of substance abuse. More than 21 million Americans have at least one addiction, but only 10% receive treatment,” said Brown. “Alcohol and drug addiction cost the U.S. economy more than $600 billion every year, which includes the cost of healthcare, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement. This crowdfunding campaign comes at a critical time to help us further develop the EyeGage solution and save lives.”
An issue many entrepreneurs are familiar with is the challenge of finding a supportive group to share your concerns with when it comes to your business, especially if you’re a woman. Brown found camaraderie when she participated in Georgia Tech’s VentureLab’s inaugural Female Founders program in 2020 led by VentureLab’s Melissa Heffner and Sara Martin-Henderson, and current Full-time MBA student Amanda Grupp.
“It was my first program targeted toward female founders, so we could have candid conversations about our issues,” Brown said. “A lot of the things we felt as female founders were validated. Learning about the biases we face didn’t make them go away, but it made me feel more comfortable knowing that it’s happening to all of us. Having other people who understood the same things I was going through was refreshing.”
Brown also took the inaugural MBA CREATE-X course in spring 2020 taught by Karthik Ramachandran and Nishant Dass. When she completed the course, she was selected to participate in the GT CREATE -X Startup Launch Accelerator, a program where students receive grant money and career services to launch their projects from ideas to startups.
Currently, EyeGage has caught the attention of Google. The startup was selected to join the Google for Startups Founders Academy, a nationwide six-month, equity-free program designed to help founders and their startups grow revenues and obtain access to capital.
As EyeGage starts to make a name for itself in the tech world, Brown credits Scheller as the home for EyeGage.
“I truly believe EyeGage was born at Scheller,” she said. “The CREATE-X course that Ramachandran and Dass taught together was great. It gave us the attention we needed to do our customer discovery that prepared us to get into the summer program. EyeGage is a Scheller company.”