Recent grad Daniel Trostli, E’12, who majored in mechanical engineering, and Julian Jung, fifth-year entrepreneurship major.
For Trostli, a degree in mechanical engineering and a 2009 co-op at robot-design firm iRobot. For Jung, a degree in entrepreneurship and two co-ops selling properties at Hodara Real Estate Group, America’s first student-run real estate brokerage firm.
A high-tech cigarette case, dubbed “Layla,” that supports smokers in their effort to quit smoking. An infrared sensor records the number of cigarettes removed from the pack, and when. The data are sent to a computer or mobile device, where smokers can see not only how often they smoke, but also how much cash they’re dropping on cigarettes. The program also provides personalized stats to boost awareness about health risks, as well as motivational tips and a savings tracker.
“Northeastern is an incredible environment for emerging entrepreneurs. As students and alumni, the impact we make can be magnificent, as long as we have direction and passion.” —Julian Jung
The Life of Layla:
2012—The First Year
3/24: The Idea is Born
At the weekend-long “Engineers for the Greater Good” hackathon—sponsored annually by Northeastern’s student-run Entrepreneurship Club (also the host of the Husky Innovation Challenge and the Pitch-A-thon)—Trostli and Jung team up to act on Trostli’s lingering idea: turn Jung’s effort to quit smoking into a viable business. With the help of a 3-D printer, they develop a working prototype. Their pitch presentation wins them $500.
4/10: Layla Gets a Cash Infusion
Hot off their hackathon win, Jung and Trostli apply for—and win—$2,500 in prototype funding from IDEA, Northeastern’s venture accelerator, a student-run, interdisciplinary organization that is now part of the new Northeastern University Center for Entrepreneurship Education (NUCEE). NUCEE also helps alumni develop entrepreneurial skils and knowledge through exclusive startup boot camps.
6/23: Networking, East Coast
Layla is entered in AngelHack Boston, a 48-hour software- development competition, where Trostli and Jung sync up with three developers, including Ian Oo, a fourth-year computer science major at Northeastern. With a fully functioning prototype in both software and hardware, Layla places third.
7/12: Networking, West Coast
Trostli and Jung win a trip to San Francisco for the national AngelHack finals. The two pounce on the opportunity to tour AOL and Google headquarters, visit tech incubators, and network with healthcare innovation professionals. Layla doesn’t place, but the project catches the eye of several interested investors.
7/18: Getting Gap Funding
With the help of their experienced IDEA coach, Ethan Bagley, ME’10, founder and CEO of social-media company USpin and a High-Tech MBA student, Trostli and Jung apply for and receive $5,175 in IDEA gap funding. The grant goes toward the process of customer validation: pinpointing the perfect design and price point for the product, and determining if people will buy and use it.
8/8: Gathering Market Research
The two entrepreneurs interview dozens of Boston smokers to gather feedback on their idea. They glean insight about ideal demographics and consider alternative packaging for the product (for example, an electronic cigarette lighter instead of a case). Several smokers surveyed are so enthusiastic that they offer up their credit card for preorders.
Today: Looking Forward to a Long Life
Jung and Trostli continue to test, research, and perfect their ideas—for Layla and other ventures. Their overall goal: to improve lives by making people more aware of their everyday choices.
Why the Name Layla?
The product’s name has a personal story. When Jung returned from visiting friends in Panama, he brought back lots of happy memories—and a smoking habit. Eager to quit, he enlisted the help of a woman who worked at his favorite neighborhood convenience store. Her name, as you might guess: Layla.
Over several weeks, Layla doled out fewer and fewer cigarettes from the packs Jung bought, while reminding him of smoking’s negative impact on his health—and wallet.
The system worked. Jung was able to quit in three months, and the name Layla, for him, became synonymous with motivation.
Other Northeastern entrepreneurs explain their ventures at Global Entrepreneurship Week.