ConVal graduates win funds to launch their invention
Dillon Forzese, 19, of Peterborough, carries "Jimmy," a portable backpack-style speaker invented by himself and fellow ConVal student Eric Nolet, 19, of Francestown. The two teens hope to be able to bring the product to the retail market within the upcoming year.
Dillon Forzese of Peterborough and Eric Nolet of Francestown first got their idea for a portable speaker that they could plug their Ipods into while in High School and looking for a way to share music with their friends. Now, as college students, they have received a $5,000 prize to help commercialize their invention.
Dillon Forzese, 19, of Peterborough, works on one of the early incarnations of "Jimmy," a speaker that can be carried like a backpack, with his partner in business and invention, Eric Nolet, works in the background.
Two recent ConVal High School graduates wanted to create a speaker they could carry with them on the beach or around town while hanging out with their friends. When none of the products on the market fit the bill, they decided to invent their own.
Dillon Forzese of Peterborough and Eric Nolet of Francestown just wanted to share music with the world.
They didn’t want to see people walking around with earbuds, or trying to pump out music on small, tiny speakers. They wanted to lead a beach full of people in an impromptu dance line to the internet hit “Gangham Style.”
That they couldn’t find a battery-powered speaker loud enough to accomplish these things didn’t deter them — they just invented their own system.
When they were students at ConVal High School, Forzese, 19, and Nolet, 19, were typical teenagers who enjoyed hanging out at the park and at the beach with their friends. But they discovered they had a problem. They liked to have a backdrop of music while they were out and about, but devices like iPod docks or speakers weren’t loud enough to let the whole group hear the music, and carrying around a boom box was inconvenient.
For plenty of teenagers, this would have just been an aggravation to put up with. Nolet and Forzese, budding engineers that they were, decided to solve the problem.
Cannibalizing an old 1985 loudspeaker, the two built their own portable speaker in 2010, which could be worn like a backpack. Their first design was so large and clunky, it was almost like bringing along an additional person every time they went out. As a joke, Forzese, Nolet and their friends began to call the backpack “Jimmy,” and the name stuck.
As college students, the two recent ConVal graduates have been given the opportunity to bring the product they invented in high school to the market, with a $5,000 award from the Achievement Program at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, where they are freshmen.
“It all stemmed from a need that we had,” Nolet said in an interview Thursday. “We needed something durable and waterproof, and with enough power to power a party.”
Little did the two know at the time, they’d hit on an idea that would resonate with a lot of people.
Whenever their group used Jimmy in public, they would constantly have people come up to ask them about their invention — and ask where they could get one. Nolet and Forzese began to realize what had started out as a way to let their group listening to music together was a potential business opportunity.
“When we first took it out on the street, we knew Jimmy was a crowd gatherer. Not only because it’s big and loud and bold, but because music is a great way to bring people together. Having music is always a bonus. And it’s not isolating. I try to stay away from walking around with earbuds in now, because it’s so antisocial.”
The two inventors identified their desired markets — teens and men and women in their 20s as well as local music performers and deejays — and conducted large-scale surveys to determine if there was a demand for a product like Jimmy. As it turns out, many people were willing to pay the estimated $200 to $250 for their very own backpack loudspeaker and amplifier.
“We’re always concerned about putting on music on such a big speaker, but the results have been overwhelmingly positive,” Forzese said. “It’s great to know people love the product that we’re making, and that they want it for themselves.”
Jimmy has come a long way from its original incarnation. Having been through two additional prototypes since it was first invented, the product now weighs about 20 pounds, consisting of a 300-watt amplifier and a rechargeable battery that can last up to 14 hours at a time, and has enough power to fill a large auditorium with music. Not only does it allow the user to hook up their iPod, iPhone, or Android phone to the speaker, it also acts as an amplifier for musical instruments or a microphone.
As freshmen at Wentworth Institute of Technology this year, the two enrolled in the institute’s Achievement Program, a semester-long course that allows students to develop inventions and present them before a board, which awards the five best projects funds to bring their product to market.
Forzese and Nolet competed with 33 other students, 17 of which completed projects to pitch to the board. They, along with four other teams, were ultimately chosen to receive $5,000 to make Jimmy available to the public.
“It’s incredible that as freshmen we’re able to do this,” said Nolet. “The support from Wentworth has been incredible. Without it, we wouldn’t have an almost-finished product and have a chance to bring it to market.”
Half of the winnings will be put into further planning and a final Jimmy prototype, and designs and a prototype for a smaller, less powerful version of their invention, which will cost consumers less. The other half will be going toward jump-starting a Kickstarter Campaign to bring Jimmy to market next year.
Kickstarter is an online funding source that allows a creator to fund creative projects while maintaining control of their own work. Creators put up their own Kickstarter page promoting their work, which can be anything from design and technology to artistic endeavors like art and dance, and a stated monetary goal they need to fund their project. If people like the idea, they pledge funds to it, but are only charged if the product reaches its target. If the target is reached, Kickstarter takes 5 percent of the funds, and the rest is left for the creator.
Nolet and Forzese are looking for funds to the tune of $100,000, which is no small sum, but they believe Jimmy will be a big enough draw to bring in the support. They hope by the end of 2013, they will be able to bring Jimmy to retailers, or at least make it available via a website.
For more information on Jimmy, Nolet or Forzese, see their website or their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jimmythespeaker.
Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.