Turning the Corner | Trinity University
Apply Now Visit Trinity 150 Years

You are here

Turning the Corner

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Trinity startup’s turn signal could save lives of motorcyclists

by Jeremy Gerlach

Motorcycles are tough vehicles to spot. And if you’re riding one at night, your life literally depends on being as visible as possible.

So, Trinity entrepreneurs Bobby Magee ’21 and Chris Stewart ’21, have built a device that will make motorcyclists nearly impossible to miss. Meet LuxTurn, a projected turn signal that flashes a powerful LED light onto an adjacent lane.

“As a motorcyclist, I can testify firsthand that the scariest part of riding a motorcycle is the other people who are on the road with you,” Magee says. “We’re constantly worried that someone might not notice us, and that mistake will cost us our lives. Having a projected turn signal, that’s something that’s never been done before. We’re hoping it will catch people’s eyes, and maybe get them to get off their phones, look over, and maybe realize there’s a motorcyclist right there.

LuxTurn allows motorists to apply this technology to both their turn signals and their brake lights. Just plug in the low-profile device, which holds a 20-watt LED bulb within a 1x2-inch device, and it works in conjunction with your turn signals. 

Collage of LuxTurn signal at night

The product, hatched in an entry-level Trinity Entrepreneurship class, just won a major boost through the Stumberg Venture Competition, Trinity’s premiere pitch contest for student-run startups. Winning $20,000 in seed money from Stumberg, LuxTurn is also patent pending, moving forward with manufacturing, and preparing to fill pre-orders.

“This is not in the market right now—this has never been done before,” Stewart says. “No one is doing projected turn signals, and this is an $8 billion industry. I’m just excited about the potential growth we have in the market.”

“We believe that we’re technological innovators in this industry,” Magee adds. 

This is exactly the type of innovation that Trinity’s Entrepreneurship Department has been incubating through the Stumberg competition. Every year, the contest selects five finalists out of a crowded spring preliminary round, and awards each $5,000 in seed money. These Tigers then develop crucial business skills, and hone their plans and pitches during Trinity’s Summer Accelerator program, which also pays these entrepreneurs for their work. By the Stumberg final round in the fall, each business has evolved into a strong contender for up to $25,000 in grand prize money.

Magee pitches at Stumberg prelims

From Whiteboard to Circuit Board

Before LuxTurn was a Stumberg champion, it was just an idea on a whiteboard: a concept for a projected turn signal that would safely light the way for motorcyclists.

Magee and Stewart, who met as fellow finance majors and football teammates, came up with the idea as part of an entry-level entrepreneurship class. But transforming this concept into the actual LuxTurn product would take a special combination of engineering resources, faculty support, and real-world connections. Lucky for Magee and Stewart, Trinity is a one-stop shop for all of this.

“Trinity University was a fantastic help to us,” Magee says. “Trinity had all the resources we needed to prototype this out, build up our company to what it is right now, and that was a big factor in our progress.”

First, the group needed a feasible design, then a functioning prototype. Building these things would be possible at plenty of large universities, which boast state-of-the-art engineering equipment and advanced computer design software. But there’s one problem: neither Magee or Stewart are engineers or designers.

“Going through all that prototyping, for two non-engineers, that was a big challenge for us,” Magee says. “Chris and I had to go through and teach ourselves how to use multiple different softwares over the summer, how to 3D print our product, how to design and print the circuit board for our product.

Collage of Trinity's CSI MakerSpace

Enter Trinity’s CSI Makerspace, a one-stop machine shop where Tigers of any major can get the support, space, and materials they need to turn their ideas into reality.

“Just getting the raw materials, putting it together with the laser printer, the 3D printer that’s in the makerspace, we used that to our advantage,” Stewart says. 

Even with the technology—and space—available, the team spent almost two months rendering prototypes.

“That was difficult—Chris and I spent many afternoons and late nights sitting up in CSI, being very frustrated at the computer software we could not figure out how to work,” Magee says.

“That was definitely our lowest point,” Stewart says. “We’re not engineers by any means, so that was a very frustrating time.” 

That’s where Trinity’s position as a small school—with big-school resources—came in clutch.

“We really went through and got lots of education and mentorship from professors and our peers to learn how to work all of the software and everything we needed to actually build the product,” Magee says. 

Magee and Stewart meet George Karutz

SUPPORT SYSTEM

Through the Summer Accelerator phase of the Stumberg contest, the LuxTurn team got personalized mentorship from Trinity faculty and staff every day. The Entrepreneurship Department also brought in guest speakers to teach the fledgling founders how to file as an LLC, along with other organizational steps behind starting a business.

The Entrepreneurship Department even helped LuxTurn connect to a Seattle law firm to file a patent for their product. One of the partners at the firm was a motorcycle enthusiast who believed in the LuxTurn mission, and helped the team with all of its IP work at a discounted rate.

“We didn’t even have to leave campus for the most part,” Stewart adds. “And when we did have to go, Trinity had the resources and connections that we could use, and it was a pretty smooth process.”

This is the kind of above-and-beyond support any student entrepreneur needs to balance class with starting a business. But for Stewart and Magee, this support counted triple.

“We’re both on the football team, we’re both Trinity students, and with co-founding this company, you could tell we had a lot of things on our plate,” Stewart says. “During the summer is when we really got ahead of this venture. We’d get up early to work out, go to class, and the rest of the day, we just put our heads down and got to work.”

Magee and Stewart develop their Stumberg concept

“Juggling class with our athletic responsibilities, and our company, that’s a lot for anyone to handle,” Magee adds. “But Chris and I do a good job of holding each other accountable, being efficient in all aspects of what we’re doing.”

And since the Trinity Entrepreneurship Department has worked to foster an atmosphere of collaboration, the LuxTurn group even had support from fellow Stumberg competitors.

“All five teams got to be together in class every day,” Magee says. “Through the entire summer, there was a big attitude of encouragement from the other teams. We all approached the summer hoping to build our companies, not compete with each other.”

“We became pretty close friends with them,” Stewart adds. “We formed a nice entrepreneurship bond, and I think it was just a really healthy competition.  Collaboration enhances everybody’s product, just being able to bounce ideas off each other and get different feedback from different people.” 

LuxTurn holds Stumberg cheque

Accelerating What’s Next

The LuxTurn team has always had big plans for the future. But armed with $20,000 in seed money from Stumberg, those plans are accelerating rapidly.

The prize money will help LuxTurn continue to perfect their product, while also allowing the team to complete the filing process for a full patent. And while Magee and Stewart have picked up some crucial engineering and design skills, they’re looking forward to hiring some actual engineers to produce manufacturing schematics and designs.

And while it’s easy to forget, remember that Stewart and Magee still have college classes to look forward to. Both also plan to finish their degrees in finance, which will come in handy when they potentially graduate into jobs at the growing LuxTurn company they cofounded. 

“Seeing our product on a shelf in the store would be an incredible experience, and it would show that all our hard work has paid off,” Stewart says. “We’re going to take this as far as we can.”