Dublin Villager

Dublin education, mentors lead to business venture

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At Coffman High School, Drew Karabinos quickly rose to the top.

So it came as no surprise to Grizzell Middle School Principal Dustin Miller that the 2009 Coffman High School graduate spent some time in China after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania developing a product for his start-up company.

"I would have known Drew when I was assistant principal (at Coffman) and one of the assistant principal responsibilities was overseeing student government," Miller said.

"Drew surfaced as a freshman as somebody who was going to be a leader in the building without a question. ... He was a wonderful kid, even at age 14."

Ten years later Miller and Karabinos are still in touch, but their relationship has evolved.

"My door is always open," Miller said. "Over the year there have been a handful of students who have kept in touch and are mentor relationships.

"The nice thing about mentor relationships is they evolve into relationships. That's one of the best parts of the job."

Not only has Miller seen Karabinos through college graduation, but he's also watched the creation of a company.

"In college my senior year me and a friend in the engineering school had an idea to build a device to help people be more alert and detect when you're drowsy," Karabinos said.

"We were always drowsy in school and were thinking of something to make us more alert in the classroom."

To solve the problem, Karabinos helped invent Vigo, a blue-tooth enabled device worn on the ear that tracks eye blinks and uses lights, vibration or music to wake up the wearer.

"It monitors your blinking pattern and movement," he said.

"It can quantify movement in real time. You can start to find patterns in blinking and when you doze off if it can ID that."

After college graduation, Karabinos decided to pursue Vigo and went to China where he and fellow creator Jason Gui looked into manufacturing.

"We applied for some funding and a company in China decided to back us," he said.

"We built a prototype and set up manufacturing."

Creating a startup, however, brought Karabinos some difficult decisions.

"Before we raised funding for China I had a job lined up for a stable career," he said.

"I found out about the funding at the last minute so I told the company I was supposed to start with I was going to pursue (Vigo) for four months."

Luckily, the tech consulting job in Chicago allowed Karabinos to delay his start date.

When he returned to the U.S., however, Karabinos had to choose between a stable job with health insurance and an uncertain startup.

"I ended up taking the tech consulting job in Chicago and I worked on Vigo part time," he said.

In college and Dublin City Schools, Karabinos said he had teachers that fostered his entrepreneurial spirit, but one lesson was lacking.

"I had no experience in anything in terms of raising money and having a startup," he said.

"I didn't have the knowledge advantage there."

Thanks to good advice, the support of trucking companies and a successful KickStarter campaign, Vigo is on schedule to start selling this summer.

"I would definitely say there is an entrepreneurial spirit in Dublin," Karabinos said.

"One personal friend already has a startup and I always had friends with good ideas.

"There were certain teachers with entrepreneurial experience. In middle school I took a tech exploration class," he said.

"You go into a lab and come up with idea, work with your hands and build things.

"I think the school system can help foster that entrepreneurial spirit. The next step is what to do with it."

For more information on Karabinos' startup, look online at wearvigo.com.

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