Informatics students win 2014 Shobe prize

Katlyn Edwards, Carlo Valentin, Phill Pasqual, Kartik Rishi, and Kendall Morgan (pictured left to right), all seniors in the iSchool Informatics program, pooled their talents to create Fidgt, a better way to interact with wearable devices, such as Google Glass or Pebble Smartwatch. Team Fidgt won the 2014 Shobe Prize, sharing the honors with Disco, a team  of students from Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE).

“The inspiration really came from us taking a moment to look critically at how the wearable device market was developing. We realized that there is a gap in how we interact with our devices and decided to tackle the problem head-on,” said Rishi who was also part of a team that organized the first student-focused Startup Weekend UW in 2013.

“Our product as a whole was very influenced by Informatics – we wanted our product to be usable so we took a very user-centered approach,” said Edwards when asked how her Informatics degree helped with the project. 

The five team members took specific roles during the project, something they practiced in iSchool group projects. They incorporated many concepts from their Informatics courses including human-computer interaction, design thinking, networking, and how to run user studies. They originally planned to create a software product and ended up focusing on hardware.

The end result was what really impressed the judges. “Taking an idea from a piece of paper, iterating on it and crafting it into an interactive prototype to demonstrate our vision to others was what I enjoyed most about the experience,” said Pasqual.

In addition to imagining the trials of a startup and competing with other teams, the students said it helped them imagine an alternative career path. “It’s made me consider the possibility of a startup, something I thought was only a dream before. This makes it very real,” said Valentin.

The Shobe Prize is an annual competition sponsored by HCDE Alumnus, Matt Shobe, and open to teams from the iSchool, HCDE, Computer Science and Engineering, and the division of design in the School of Art.

More than 20 teams pitched their ideas during winter quarter before the field was winnowed to the three finalists. The final judging panel consisted of  Greg Gottesman, managing director, Madrona Venture Group; Dr. Beth Kolko, professor, HCDE; Dr. Mark Zachry, professor, HCDE; and Matt Shobe, "Serial Entrepreneur" and founder of the Shobe Prize. Andy Sack, managing director, Techstars Seattle was involved in judging the first round.

Matt Shobe said this was the steepest competition he had seen in the four years since the Prize’s inception. "The 2014 winners, Disco and Fidgt, are teams with clear-cut member roles, ability to execute on their concepts, and a solid sense of how they want to achieve product/market fit. They've shown great capacity for taking feedback about their ideas already and I'm really psyched to help get them to their next levels: a launched title in the App Store and a ready-for-Kickstarter hardware product, respectively."

In addition to the $5,000 per team startup funds that the Shobe Prize offers, each team will be given office space and one-on-one mentoring from Matt Shobe, HCDE faculty, and industry partners. The goal is to have a proven prototype within six months that is ready to ship to the appropriate marketplace.

Apart from the prospect of commercializing Fidgt, the overall experience looks great on a resume.

“This will be extremely useful for applying to graduate programs and pursuing software development positions,” said Morgan.